Oct 05, 2022 2 mins, 41 secs
For the next two years, as Jackson learned to talk and started calling Wentzel “Nana,” authorities kept trying to “reunite” the child with his parents, though they were already unreachable.

Once they did, the couple officially became part of a large and growing group of people sporadically heralded as heroes but just as often overlooked: the 2.4 million American grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.

More than 11,000 grandparents are raising grandchildren in the three counties Grodsky's agency serves — and it has funding to help 90 of them.

When a foster family takes in a child, the state helps them out financially.

Foster parents qualify for respite care, Medicaid for the children and other services, as do grandparents caring for a child in the legal custody of Michigan's child welfare system.

But the majority of grandparents taking care of grandchildren, who do so outside of the system, do not receive assistance at all.

The true number of grandparents raising grandchildren in Michigan is not known.

Of the 54,000 Michigan children being raised by a relative with no parent present, less than 9% of them are officially in foster care.

For every child being raised by kin in foster care, an additional 12 are being raised by a relative outside of the system.

Grandparents save the child welfare system billions of dollars each year by diverting their grandchildren out of it.

Her youngest child was a senior in high school where they lived in East Lansing, Michigan, and James had been counting down the days until she could spend some quality time with her husband of two years as honeymooning empty-nesters.

“When you get that call, you just answer it,” James said.

James would need a car seat, plenty of gas money and, somehow, despite her job and the toddler she was raising, a whole lot of time.

Especially as a grandmother who wasn’t yet 55 years old, James hadn’t been able to access services available to older grandparents caring for grandchildren.

This time, she went to Child Protective Services herself.

“When you have to advocate for yourself, you kind of turn over every stone to get resources,” said James, who ended up becoming a licensed foster parent and took Eric home three months later.

The Advisory Council formed by the 2018 Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act found that “the legal and child welfare systems in this nation are not designed to address the needs of these families.

After all, it is their children who have passed away, gone to jail, slipped into an underworld that demands their attention, money and time and leaves them incapable of caring for their most valuable, and vulnerable, assets.

But it also eases the sense of isolation that can come from caring for children at a time when most of their friends are caring for their houseplants and retirement accounts.

“We had to learn to grieve what we thought our future, our retirement, was going to look like,” said Wentzel.

“We don’t fit into that normal family look,” Wentzel said

Wentzel has found support and connection through groups like Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and from groups for special needs families like hers

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