By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA
The word family means different things to different people. Some reserve the term for blood relatives, and maybe the ones blood relatives marry. Others use it to refer to the friends that play an important role in their lives, or the people they work with – their “work family.” For me it is a little of both.
I am fortunate to have grown up in a fairly large family. I was one of five girls – that’s right – five girls. You can probably imagine that things got hectic at times, and arguments broke out over who “borrowed” my favorite shirt and the like, but mostly I remember the fun we had as we stayed up late talking and sharing stories.
Family, no matter your definition, is important, and a life without some sense of family is a pretty lonely life.
In the child welfare arena, we think and talk about family a lot. We know that the children in care are taken from the only family they know. Sometimes they are put in foster care, and sometimes there is a family member, or someone close to the family (fictive kin), that may take them in during this critical time. The latter two options are usually the better choice, but they do open up new challenges, especially for the family or fictive kin that agrees to take the children into their home.
A particularly common occurrence we are seeing more and more frequently is grandparents raising their grandchildren.
There was a recent segment on 60 Minutes discussing the opioid epidemic that is devastating so many families, and many times leaving the grandparents to raise their grandchildren. Although this piece does not specifically deal with the involvement of Child Protective Services (CPS), the challenges are the same. Grandparents that are nearing or already in retirement are going back to work, taking second jobs, dipping into their savings and, frankly, totally readjusting their lives to raise the grandchildren that their children can no longer support or care for.
At our Texas CASA Child Welfare Primer hosted last month, I met a lovely lady named Delia Martinez. She is the founder of a soon-to-be nonprofit, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. Out of necessity she ended up raising her grandchildren and through the process realized how much help she and other grandparents like her needed. Since CPS was involved, she needed legal assistance, and also wanted attorneys to be educated and better understand the special circumstances of grandparents. For example, in Texas, grandparents are not guaranteed the right to visitation with their grandchild – in order for the court to enforce this right for grandparents, certain circumstances must exist, such as divorce, abuse or neglect, or parental incarceration or death, among other things. In addition, grandparents may not request visitation if the grandchild has been adopted by someone other than a step-parent.
I will be interviewing Martinez on an upcoming Conversations with CASA installment, but I wanted to bring this topic to the forefront now. When we look at the meaning of family from the perspective of past generations, there was an implicit expectation that you took care of each other. Maybe things have changed, and maybe they haven’t. Many of us know someone in our family or close friends that have had to take in the children of their adult children, at least for a time. So in addition to the work CASA is already doing around family engagement, can we – not only we at CASA but everyone in our community – do more for them? Can we extend the traditional definition of family and reach out and support these amazing caregivers by lending a hand with the little things?
I am blessed to have been raised in a large family, and I never take it for granted. I am also blessed to have a “work family” that is very dear to my heart. Family is a gift, and for those of us who have enjoyed this gift, let’s remember to pass it forward.
If you are not currently involved with CASA, I ask you today to consider how you can play a part in making a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children. Are you ready to take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer? Visit BecomeACASA.org to learn how you can speak up for a child who needs you. You can also support the work of Texas CASA by making a secure online gift that will benefit the local CASA volunteer advocacy programs across the state.