by Becky GINOS
CLEARFIELD—Deborah and Jim Jensen were a retired couple in their 60s ready to take on the next season of life when suddenly their whole world turned upside down. They found out their son and his wife were hooked on meth so they sprung into action and took custody of their 1-year-old granddaughter Summer.
“We’re retired and it was difficult to understand that we might be raising a 1-year-old,” said Jim. “I felt bad because I wanted to give her the same life I gave to my child who did this to her but time was not on my side.”
The Jensens were told the chances of their son and daughter-in-law recovering from their addictions was zero. “We were desperate to find someone to help us,” Jim said. “We found out about the Grandfamilies program and they gave us some hope and understanding. We had no place to turn without them.”
Grandfamilies is part of the Children’s Service Society of Utah, one of the oldest nonprofit organizations in the state.
“In about 2002 we realized there was a growing number of grandparents and other family members taking on the role of parenting and we didn’t have services for them,” said Becall Hincks, program administrator for Grandfamilies. “There are about 32,000 to 36,000 kids in Utah who are living with a relative. There are more than 2,000 just in Davis County. A lot of people assume they are getting support through Foster Care or DCFS but for every one family receiving services there are 20 more receiving nothing.”
Like the Jensens, most “kinship” caregivers are thrown into an unfamiliar world with a child from a troubled situation to take care of. “We try to support families in four areas,” said Hincks. “First we give them resources and referrals. This is an unexpected event for them so they don’t know how to get legal services, health insurance or get the child registered for school. We want them to have some stability in the home.”
The program offers a 10-week course for the caregiver and a 10-week course for the children in care. “They’re at risk,” Hincks said. “They’ve experienced a high level of trauma and we want to help them develop in healthy ways to reduce problems in the future. We want them to know it’s OK to be raised by grandma and we use a therapeutic approach to help them adjust to this new situation.”
In addition to the classes and resources, Grandfamilies provides opportunities for fun activities to get together with others experiencing the same life changes. “It gives them a chance to connect and spend time together as friends and peers,” said Hincks.
As part of that effort, Grandfamilies is hosting its sixth annual BBQ for caregivers and their families Aug. 14 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Barnes Park in Kaysville. Families and friends are welcome to join in an evening of food and fun with balloon tying and Star Wars characters.
The Jensens had Summer for a year before she was placed back with her parents. “I became her father 24/7 for that year,” said Jim. “My whole life was her. She completely connected with our home and us. When family services took her from us and stuck her back with her parents it was devastating. We went through holy hell.”
The couple hired an attorney and fought for grandparents’ rights to see the child but Jim said it was easier for polygamists than grandparents with Utah’s laws. Finally, they eked out some visitation. In the meantime, a miracle happened.
“Our son realized what they were doing and started to turn his life around,” said Deborah. “We went in with absolutely no hope of him really being normal again. He’s got a job and he’s going to school now. He’s better than he’s ever been. People need to know there is hope. Too many people think they’re lost for the rest of their life.”
Both Deborah and Jim said they couldn’t have gotten through it without Grandfamilies. “They saved our lives,” said Jim. “It was like being under water and they gave us air and taught us to breathe.”
Summer is 4 years old now and living with her parents but the Jensens are heavily involved in her life and always will be. “We’re very blessed,” said Deborah.
For more information about the Children’s Service Society and Grandfamilies visit www.cssutah.gov.