TIOGA (WBNG) — A change in family dynamic is happening in Tioga County, leaving many struggling on their own, but new numbers reveal it’s more common than you may think.
Grandfamilies is a nationally coined term that describes a grandparent or other guardian raising their grandchild.
According to the American Community Survey, in 2012 nearly 4.7 percent of households in Tioga County with children under 18 were grandparents raising their grandchildren. In 2017, that number rose to 11.4 percent. That’s more than a 100 percent increase in just five years.
While the change in family dynamic may be for any circumstance, Kyle Holochak with Tioga County Public Health says the rise in grandfamilies is following a trend similar to the opioid epidemic.
“The trend looks a lot like the trend of opioids and opioid overdoses,” said Holochak.
Deborah Smith from Owego says her story began when her son Josh passed away from an overdose at age 24.
“I had no idea and I think that will haunt me forever,” she said. “Any mother, that losing a child has to be the most traumatic thing you that you can ever experience and it was. it was a horrible thing.”
Josh was struggling with heroin and in 2014, he overdosed leaving behind two children of his own. Smith says Everatt was an infant at the time and went to live with his mother, while the other son Chase was four and went to live with Smith.
“Raising him is what I knew I had to do, and as any parent, I think that any parent would do as I did, if they had the capability of it,” she said.
Grieving while facing the struggles of raising her grandchildren and dealing with the courts, money and all other aspects of family life, she says it is comforting to know she’s not alone.
“There’s so many resources and to know when you know there’s other people going through it, just to have that other person to talk with how they got through it can only help people,” she explained.
To help bring awareness to this changing family dynamic, Tioga Public Health is is working with Tioga County Allies in Substance Abuse Prevention to host grandfamily events. Traveling to schools and other meeting places to show these families there’s help if they want it and they’re not alone.
“Part of the reason we wanted to do this is to kind of reduce that stigma and that it’s okay there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Stephanie Ferraro, prevention specialist at Tioga ASAP. “It really hits home in a lot of ways for people to understand that it is happening here.”
While speaking out in an effort to help others going through a similar situation, Smith says she believes a major issue is that our youth don’t have a safe place to go. So in the wake of Josh’s passing, the Joshua House was created to give children in our area a safe outlet that is drug free. It is a youth center that gives teens in our area an outlet for group activities that promote a positive community.
Smith’s story does have a happy ending. She says Chase this fall will be able to go back to live with his mother who is now clean from her own addiction.