Now that our grown son and his girlfriend have lost their kids to the authorities due to a long history of drug abuse, should we try to gain custody of our grandchildren? We don't feel that we have the physical energy to raise them, but we don't want to see them lost in the foster care system either. What should we do?
This is largely a legal question. Physical energy or no, you may not be in a position to take your grandkids into your home even if you want to. The law will have something to say about that, and the sad and surprising fact is that few states recognize grandparents' rights in situations like the one you've described.
That's not to say that grandparents never win custody of their grandchildren. You may actually have a fair chance of getting the kids if you decide to pursue that option. The point is that this responsibility doesn't default to you automatically. If you want it, you'll have to fill out the appropriate forms and go through the interviews and evaluations with state social workers just like any other potential foster parent. The statutes differ from state to state, of course, so you'll have to do some research to learn precisely what course of action is open to you. At this stage of the game the important thing is to get an accurate sense of the legal parameters and make sure your ducks are in a row before finalizing any personal plans of your own.
For assistance in this area, we strongly suggest that you consult with a lawyer, preferably an individual who specializes in foster care and child custody law. It might also be a good idea to engage the services of a Christian counselor or therapist. Both of these professionals can help you talk through your options and locate the best available resources. We have a staff of trained, licensed Christian counselors here at Focus on the Family who would love to discuss your situation with you at greater length if you would be willing to give us a call. They can also provide you with referrals to qualified family counselors practicing in your area. Our staff is available to speak with you at this number.
On a purely moral level, you might also want to reflect on the thought that ability – whether that means financial resources, free time, or a vacant room in your house – doesn't necessarily constitute obligation in a case like this. Just because you're in a position to help doesn't necessarily mean that you should help or that you have to help. The only question that really counts is "What's best for the kids?"
To resolve this difficulty, you may need to set aside your parental and grandparental instincts and adopt a more objective point of view. Consider the possibility that there may be other people out there far better equipped to raise your grandchildren than you are. If you're short on patience and physical energy at this stage in your lives, they might actually be better off in another home. We realize that this can sound a bit cold. You may find it particularly hard to swallow if you come from a cultural background where blood-ties, family loyalties and family obligations are held in the highest regard. We respect those values and have no desire to dissuade you from doing what you feel is right. At the same time, we still believe that the question we posed above represents the bottom line: "What's best for the kids?"
While working your way toward a solution, you may be interested to know that the Betty Ford Foundation offers a Children's Program designed specifically to meet the needs of 7- to 12-year-old children from families who have been hurt by substance abuse. No child is turned away for lack of funds, scholarships are available, and the program is open to the public. For more information, visit the Betty Ford Center website.
Whatever you decide, we want to encourage you to believe that God is big enough to provide the best situation for your grandkids and to order the details of their lives according to His perfect will. He has promised never to abandon or forsake His children (Hebrews 13:5). Above all, we hope you will pray for them regularly and earnestly, and enlist others to join you in that effort. Build up a prayer network and a support system for yourselves, the kids, and their parents. Seek out the guidance of a pastor, a church elder, a mentor, or a trusted friend. Believe that the Lord will give you the clarity you need in the midst of your confusion. And don't hesitate to call us if we can be of help.