Prescription drug abuse leading to more grandparents raising grandchildren

Dr. W. Neil Gallagher and wife Gail Gallagher sit with their children. (Courtesy: Gail Gallagher)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The bond between grandparents and their grandchildren is unwavering and Gail Gallagher remembers the day more than a decade ago that feeling grew even stronger.

“The older one took the hand of the younger one and said we’re safe now,” Gallagher said.

It was the day Gallagher and her husband, Dr. W. Neil Gallagher, became parents again. Their daughter had struggled with being bipolar and borderline personality disorder and prescription drug problems and eventually was unable to take care of her two children.

Gallagher said the pair decided to step up for the safety of their grandkids, who are now 19 and 20 years old. She said her daughter’s health condition hindered her from being able to make right decisions for the children.

“There were issues beginning to form which put the children in harm’s way – physically and emotionally,” Gallagher said.

The couple went through months of legal challenges but eventually was able to adopt the kids.

Gallagher’s husband said in an interview he was already preparing to sell his business and both were preparing to move to a lake home before the dynamics of their family changed.

“Love is the action to do the right thing, whether you feel like it or not,” Neil Gallagher said.

Gallagher has now written a book, Grandparents Winning Custody of Grandchildren, and works with the Washington D.C.-based non-profit Generations United in order to help other extended relatives who are in similar positions.

“I never heard about grandparents having to raise their grandchildren, so we thought we were the only ones,” Gail Gallagher said. “That’s how a lot of other grandparents feel or have felt.”

A spokesperson for Generations United said their latest statistics show nearly 10,000 children in Texas are living with grandparents and other relatives due to drug or alcohol abuse in the home. Their numbers only highlight the children who came to the attention of the child welfare system and were placed by the agency with relatives.

Bruce Bower, deputy director for Texas Legal Services Center, said a wide variety of situations lead to aunts, uncles, older siblings or grandparents having to parent a child because neither parent is in the household.

“Probably one of the major challenges is a lack of awareness of what services will be available for the household,” Bower said. Most children qualify for services like Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Texas Legal Services Center has the Texas Kincare Project, which provides access to free legal counseling over questions and issues that arise when caring for a relative. The Texas Kincare Taskforce aims to connect the grandparents and other extended relatives who are raising children with neither parent present with sources of on-going assistance. They’ve created the Texas Kincare Primer, which outlines information about a relative’s rights and responsibilities.

As the opioid epidemic touches every community and more extended family members are stepping in to help, Bower said he sees the impact here in Texas.

“That’s a tragedy when the parental generation is involved with opioids,” said Bower. “That’s a tragedy that often times means those children have suffered for months or years before they ever contact an office that can help them.”

Gallagher wants people to know they aren’t alone and will have support if they find themselves having to take care of other children in their family.

Texas Legal Services Center also contributes to a website providing free, legal information.

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