When Sheri Kenney’s daughter went to prison for a drug offense, her daughter’s 4-year-old boy went into foster care. Kenney thought her grandson would be better off in foster care than he would be with her.

However, “After a few days I thought about it and I thought, what am I going to do when he turns 18 and he shows up on my doorstep and he says, ‘why didn’t you fight for me?’ So I applied to take him,” Kenney said.

Kenney, 56, has taken care of her grandson ever since. He’s now 7. It hasn’t been easy, Kenney said, especially since her daughter, now out of prison, is addicted to heroin and living with her.

Kenney asked The Courier to not name her daughter.

The boy had behavioral problems when he first came to live with Kenney: cutting up his sheets, spray painting his room and hoarding food.

And Kenney found herself struggling financially. She made too much money to qualify for much public assistance.

Kenney’s story is becoming more common in Hancock County and across the country, as more people become addicted to heroin and grandparents end up taking care of the drug addicts’ children.

Nationally, 2.9 million children were being taken care of by grandparents in 2015, according to a Pew Research study. In the report, officials said the numbers were rising in part due to the opiate crisis.

Going through the system

Local statistics aren’t available for how many grandparents have taken over caring for their grandchildren due to parents’ abuse of drugs. But anecdotal evidence points to a rise, because grandparents believe their grandchildren will be better off with them.

Kristen Johnson, Hancock County Probate and Juvenile Court judge, said she has seen an uptick in relatives reporting problems with the parent who is taking care of a child.

Hancock County Juvenile Court added a new staff member, Kathy Elliot, in June to work with grandparents who are taking in their grandchildren.

“The goal is to make this placement the most successful as possible, because you don’t want the child to have to go from placement to placement, or (be) put into foster care because these relatives for whatever reason can’t care for them,” Elliot said.

Elliot said the grandparents who come to see her are often scared and overwhelmed.

“A lot of people don’t understand substance abuse, and the grandparents, they don’t understand why their child is choosing drugs over their child,” Elliot said. The grandparents “don’t understand it’s not their choice, it’s the addiction.”

Many grandparents feel shame, Johnson said.

“There’s a lot of shame,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how we combat that.”

Finding support

One of the best things for both grandparents and the children can be counseling, Johnson and Elliot said.

Elliot refers people to Century Health and other organizations, depending on their insurance, as well as to support groups.

Becky Stockard co-founded a support group, “You’re Not Alone,” with her husband, Mark. The group welcomes those who are dealing with the addiction of loved ones.

“We’re not professionals, we’re just peers who understand everything that you have to deal with when it comes to substance abuse,” Becky Stockard said.

Often attendees are in their early 50s, she said. Some spouses of addicts and adult children also attend the group. She said the group has mostly spread via word-of-mouth and social media.

“It’s really important for the family members to get help, too,” Stockard said. “Even if it’s not professional, someone who you know and can trust and doesn’t judge you, it’s really important for your own sanity.”

Kenney said she found support networks though her work and through her friends from a former job at St. Catherine’s Manor of Findlay. She said friends from her former job have had similar experiences, and the group has been able to compare notes and vent to each other.

Her current job, as a nurse at Dr. Scott Rioch’s office, has also given her plenty of support, she said.

“My boss is great. I can bounce things off of him and tell him what I’m going through,” Kenney said.

As for her daughter, Kenney said she has found some help with her addiction. The grandson also has gotten better, through medication and therapy.

“People think in their head that a drug addict is some dirty, homeless person lying in a gutter somewhere shooting up. And they’re not,” Kenney said. “They’re nurses, they’re doctors, they’re lawyers. They’re your next door neighbor. They’re your best friend.”

And her situation could happen to anyone, she said.

“There’s just no rhyme or reason to it,” Kenney said. “It happens in good families now.”

MORE INFORMATION: Help available for grandparents

McClory: 419-427-8497
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