Adoption and guardianship for grandfamilies
BY JAIA PETERSON LENT
Magdalena never expected to be an adoptive parent. But her world turned upside down five years ago when, in her mid-50’s, she suddenly found herself in her living room at 2:00 a.m. with a traumatized 18-month old little girl, a police officer, and a child protective services worker. That little girl was her grand-daughter, Aubree. Her parents were battling substance use disorders and could not safely care for her. The following years for Magdalena and Aubree were a whirlwind of family court, child welfare workers, home studies, and juggling a career and health issues, all with little to no information about where go for help. Fast forward four years, through Magdalena’s sheer determination and Aubree’s resiliency the duo found their way together. It had become clear that Aubree’s home would be with her grandmother for the rest of her young life. Now it was time to make it permanent in the eyes of the law.
Aubree’s child welfare worker quickly steered Magdalena toward adoption. Only years later would she learn there was another option – guardianship- which Magda now thinks may have suited their family better. “If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have made a different decision. No one told me about guardianship, or that there were options for open or closed adoption. I didn’t know I had options.” Adoption required terminating the parental rights of Aubree’s mom, who was battling addiction, a devastating process which negatively impacted her efforts to recover. Guardianship could have offered Aubree a forever home with her grandmother without the pain of permanently terminating her mother’s rights.
Whether adoption or guardianship are right for the family, they need to be given the information they need to make the best decision.
Magdalena and Aubree are not alone. There are more than 2.5 million grandparents responsible for their grandchildren in the U.S. Faced with daunting decisions, they often find themselves without the information needed to ensure they can do what is best for their family. Child welfare workers responsible for sharing the information may be overwhelmed or even unaware of the range of options and advantages or disadvantages of each option. Whether adoption or guardianship are right for the family, they need to be given the information they need to make the best decision. Fortunately, there are helpful resources out there for families. Here are a few:
- Adoption and Guardianship for Children in Kinship Care
- grandfactsheets.org – State by state fact sheets with information about local community-based and government organizations that help grandfamilies. This website is hosted by a partnership of Generations United, the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, Casey Family Programs.
- Legal Aid Finder – A resource from the American Bar Association to help find free legal aid in your community.
Aubree is now thriving because of her grandmother’s love, perseverance and dedication. Driven by the challenges she faced, Magdalena started Grands Flourish, a nonprofit in Rhode Island which helps other grandfamilies navigate challenging journeys like the one she and Aubree traveled together. She is determined to make sure others don’t have to go through what they did. “There is power in having the information you need,” she explains, “together with love, it’s what helps our grandfamilies succeed.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JAIA LENT
Jaia Peterson Lent is Deputy Executive Director of Generations United, a national organization dedicated to improving lives. Home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, Generations United is a leading voice for issues affecting families headed by grandparents or other relatives.
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