×

Grandfamilies 1: Grappling with the cost of addiction

  • Sisters Shala (facing), 9, and Shawtel, 13, tumble in the backyard of their Concord home as their grandparents Helene and John Lorden smile in the background June 20. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staffSisters Shala (facing), 9, and Shawtel, 13, tumble in the backyard of their Concord home as their grandparents Helene and John Lorden smile in the background June 20.

  • Helene Lorden and her granddaughter Shala, 9, embrace at their Concord home on Tuesday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staffHelene Lorden and her granddaughter Shala, 9, embrace at their Concord home on Tuesday.

  • Helene Lorden, 58, picks up grill meats for that evening's dinner with her husband and grandchildren in Concord on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Shawtel (left), 13, shares a joke with her grandmother, Helene Lorden, as dinner is prepared at their home in Concord on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Ezra, 15, stands at the back door as his grandmother Helene Lorden (right) and brother Avery, 18, sit in the backyard of their Concord home on Friday, June 23, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Helene Lorden (left), 58, spends time with her grandsons Zaymen, 11, and Avery, 18, in their Concord home on Friday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staffHelene Lorden (left), 58, spends time with her grandsons Zaymen, 11, and Avery, 18, in their Concord home on Friday.

  • Helene Lorden, 58, grills hamburgers and hotdogs for dinner with her husband and grandchildren in Concord on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Helene Lorden (center) and her grandsons Avery (left to right), Erza and Zaymen share memories as they sit outside their Concord home on Friday, June 23, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Ezra, 15, rides a bicycle around the yard as Helene Lorden, 58, prepares dinner for her husband and grandchildren at their home in Concord on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Saturday, July 01, 2017

In Helene Lorden’s living room, a big, inviting armchair is parked in front of the television. But the 58-year-old grandmother of five rarely gets to sit down and put her feet up.

Like thousands of other grandparents in the state, Lorden has custody of her five grandchildren – ages 10 to 18. She has been raising them for over a decade.

“I make sure they go to the dentist on a regular basis, go to school,” Lorden said. “It’s not an easy job, I have ups and downs. But I pull myself aside and think what they need.”

On a recent Friday evening, her cramped, three-bedroom apartment in Concord’s Royal Gardens was a flurry of activity. As her granddaughter Shawtel prepared for her dance recital, grandson Ezra hunted for batteries for his Xbox controller.

Outside, Lorden’s youngest grandchildren rode their bikes and scooters on the network of paved paths connecting apartments in the housing complex. Empty pizza boxes sat on the kitchen table after dinner; Lorden’s schedule was too packed to cook that night.

When she started her own family three decades ago, Lorden and her husband John only had one daughter. They didn’t expect their family of three to someday swell to seven.

Now, prepping for mealtimes, helping with homework and driving to and from appointments consumes her waking moments. During the school year, she and her husband have just a few free minutes early in the morning before the kids get up, and after they go to bed at night. By the end of the day, Lorden is wiped out.

Her life is not how she pictured being a grandmother would be.

“We put our life on the back burner to give what these kids need,” she said. “They want, want, want. I can’t give, give, give.”

As exhausting as her days are, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Lorden’s daughter struggled with drug addiction and gave up guardianship of her five oldest children to her parents.

“I raised my kids since they were babies,” Lorden said, a term she uses for her grandchildren. “If I didn’t take them, I’d be worrying.”

Lorden is one of an estimated 10,000 grandparents in New Hampshire who are their grandchildren’s primary caregivers. The growing number of so-called “grandfamilies” is driven by the state’s exploding drug crisis and children who are left parentless due to overdose deaths or an addicted parent unable to care for them.

With the state’s intense focus on expanding drug treatment and recovery, the children and families of those suffering with addiction are often an afterthought.

“I think sometimes the children are the forgotten victims of this whole opiate crisis,” said Keith Kuenning, advocacy director for Manchester-based nonprofit Child and Family Services.

In many cases, children are left trying to cope with the trauma of their parents abandoning them or dying from an overdose. Many suffer from depression, anxiety and “reactive attachment disorder,” a result of parental neglect and a lack of bonding between a child and parents.

The disorder manifests in kids who won’t bond with their family members and don’t show signs of affection like wanting to be hugged, said Mary Lou Beaver, director of nonprofit organization Every Child Matters in New Hampshire.

“You can’t cuddle them and support them,” Beaver said. “There’s no hugs and kisses they can stand.”

Sometimes children act out by misbehaving or being violent, hitting walls, and destroying things. Younger kids may regress with potty training and wet the bed again.

Many become fixated on making sure they know where their grandparents or guardians are at all times, because they are afraid of being abandoned again.

With so many kids packed into a small house, Lorden tries to make sure each grandchild gets time with her to talk about anything that’s on their mind.

She takes them out for drives around Concord so they can privately confide in her, away from their siblings.

“I think they need that alone time to talk,” she said.

Financial strain

Taking over caring for children just before retirement can prove a costly decision for many grandparents.

Rosemary and Denis Nugent of Antrim readily admit they are two of the lucky ones.

They moved up from Long Island to rural New Hampshire a few years ago with their 8-year-old grandson, and have been his primary caregivers for all but about six months of his life.

“I think from birth, I bonded with him more than the others,” Rosemary Nugent, 64, said. “It was back and forth for a while, but more with us than with (their son).”

They are both semi-retired, working because they didn’t like the lack of a daily schedule. Denis, 61, spent years operating buses for New York City transit, and gets a good pension.

Unlike many of the other grandparents they know in southwestern New Hampshire, “We’re not digging into our savings each month,” Denis said.

However, the Nugents didn’t know they were eligible for benefits until they started attending a local grandparents meeting in Antrim.

“A lot of things we learned at our meetings,” Rosemary said.

Their complaint about lack of information is a common one – advocates and Department of Health and Human Services officials agree there is not much in the way of outreach to grandparents.

“I think this is a big void,” said Kuenning, at Child and Family Services.

Kuenning says the lack of a coordinated outreach effort is in part due to short-staffing and turnover at New Hampshire’s Division of Children, Youth and Families, the beleaguered agency tasked with assessing whether abused or neglected children need to be placed elsewhere.

“With DCYF under so much stress, I think a lot of the information is not getting to grandparents about what resources are out there,” Kuenning said.

Director of DHHS’ Division of Family Assistance Terry Smith said he sees grandparents who need help with the intricacies of applying for food stamps and temporary assistance, or may not be aware that they qualify at all.

But the division doesn’t do any formal outreach to families to advertise available resources.

“My concern is that when people come in, they may not be knowing the difference between applying for themselves or applying for the guardian,” Smith said. “They can apply for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) on behalf of the child alone.”

One thing grandparents often don’t realize is they can get more money from the state if they apply to become foster parents for their grandchild, rather than a guardian.

Often, grandparents are just trying to get guardianship done quickly, rather than go through a more time-intensive process to become foster parents. They become eligible for $16 to $20 per day from the state to take care of their grandchildren if they go the foster care route.

“It takes quite a bit more to become a foster grandparent than it does to be a guardian,” Kuenning said. “If they adopt, they can lose their benefits.”

Rising costs

Lorden’s problem is that she simply makes too much money to qualify for food stamps.

She quit her job years ago to take care of the children and now lives on a disability paycheck. But there’s a disadvantage to getting more disability money; Lorden’s expenses don’t get factored in to her overall income bracket, so when it goes up, she can lose out on other services.

“For grandparents, they should just automatically give us food stamps and help us,” she said. “We’re saving them money in the long run.”

It’s not as if she’s completely devoid of benefits; two of her grandkids receive disability benefits and another gets money for food and clothes from the state.

But the cost of raising one grandchild – let alone five – is steep, and Lorden worries about money a lot.

These days, everything seems to cost more – Lorden’s rent goes up every year, the cost of food for five kids herself and her husband gets into the thousands each month.

And with her kids growing up, the space inside her tiny three-bedroom apartment is rapidly shrinking. She wants to buy a house or a double-wide trailer, but isn’t sure if she’ll be able to afford the payments.

“I don’t know what the future’s going to bring me, I really don’t,” Lorden said.

“When they’re out and on their own, we don’t have nothing to retire with. It’s all gone.”