SANDY — They still call her "Grammy," but Cindi Rogers has a bigger role than that in the lives of three of her grandchildren. As she puts it, she's their "mother replacement."
Rogers is among a growing segment of grandparents who have been pressed into parenting their grandchildren after the children's own parents are unable to adequately care for them.
At a news conference Monday to discuss the need for federal legislation to give state officials greater latitude with federal foster care funding, a number of people who are caring for their siblings' children or grandchildren spoke about the supports they need when they're left to pick up the pieces.
Many times, the kin they care for have experienced neglect and even abused at the hands of parents in the throes of drug addiction. Instead of the children being placed in foster care, they have stepped up to care for very vulnerable children they love.
Despite all of that, shifting into parental mode after raising their own children and planning for retirement has been an adjustment for Rogers and her husband, Michael, she said.
Another of the couple's daughters has five children.
"She says, 'Mom, we've become more like peers.' It's true. It's been like 12-plus years since we've had children," she said.
But the Rogers and their grandchildren — Elliana, 10, Kaiden, 12, and Isaiah, 14 — have found support in the Children Service Society's Grandparents Kinship Care Program. The program provides training, support and advocacy for relatives who are raising children, helping them negotiate government programs and working with courts to establish custody.
The program also provides support and counseling for children, who sometimes feel as though they are the only ones being raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles or other kin.
"I've been living with my grandparents for like two years now, and it's pretty hard. I felt like I'm the only one in this situation. I felt really alone," said Elliana Kligmann, the Rogers' granddaughter. "I didn't have any friends because I moved to a new school and it was really hard. When I went to Grandfamilies, I saw all these kids there and I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh. They're all with their grandparents.'
"When we were doing group therapy, it really helped me that I wasn't the only one that lived with their grandparents and had gone through all of the stuff that I had. It just really helped me."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, co-sponsor the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016, pledged to continue to work on behalf of families who step up to care for vulnerable children unable to live with their own families due to neglect and abuse that is often tied to substance use disorders and untreated, or poorly treated mental illness.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would have provided states federal support for substance abuse treatment and mental health services for parents and in-home parenting programs that enable parents to get the help they need to safely care for their kids.
The legislation would have set high national standards for foster care group homes to ensure vulnerable children get the care they need to address the trauma they have experienced.
The legislation passed the House of Representatives but was held in the Senate.
"We got pretty close to passing it, but somebody put a hold on it in the end. I’m going to get that passed this next year," Hatch said. "It’s a bill that’s overdue. I think most people in Congress would like to help in this area. They know its very, very much needed."
One of his goals is to ensure as many children as possible are cared for by kin instead of going into state care.
"It would encourage families to take care of these children and help them financially so they can. It’s a detailed bill that would do an awful lot of good in this area," Hatch said.