Opioid crisis is causing more grandparents to skip retirement to raise grandchildren

Photo source: Channel 3 News

Jeaniene Church is your textbook grandmother.

Inside her Pensacola home, you will find paintings from the grandchildren, stuffed animals at every corner and play time essentials.

“I’ll let him go to the movies, I’ll let him go shopping, I don’t care,” Church said while holding a superhero costume. “If they want to wear this, they can.”

You can see the sparkle in her eyes as she goes through photos of her big old family. Seven kids and 15 grandkids, she loves them all. But now, at 59-years-old, Church is raising kids all over again.

“I can’t be the grandparent I once was because it’s taken all my time and energy to be the mommy that I need to be for these two,” Church cried.

She told us her eldest son became addicted to prescribed opioids given to him in high school after a diving accident. For 20 years, his battle with addiction has hurt the family. Church had to put retirement aside and raise his two sons as her own.

“You never imagine, never imagine having to take your child’s children away,” Church said. “It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Ever.”

She said her biggest heartache is also her biggest blessing. She said she finds comfort knowing she is not alone.

Grandparents are raising their grandchildren more than ever before and experts believe the opioid crisis is to blame. These families are known as “grandfamilies.”

In Florida, nearly 160,000 grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren, according to

According to Generations United, in the United States, for every one child in foster care there are 20 children being raised by relatives.

There are even support groups for grandparents to connect with other grandparents in the same position. Church met Belinda Howard, who lives in Fort Walton Beach, through a Facebook group for grandparents raising grandchildren because of addiction.

"It's supportive and heartbreaking all at the same time,” Howard said. “It pains me to think that there are so many of us out there."

Howard is raising one of her grandchildren while her daughter finishes a prison sentence. She and her husband, David, are still working to make ends meet.

“It’s a struggle for them, it’s a struggle for us,” Belinda Howard said.

“Yeah, it affects everybody, grandparents, children,” David Howard said.

The Howards say there needs to be more resources for people in their position. Raising kids is expensive and if the relative is not the legal guardian, they are doing it all out of pocket.

“Whatever we had planned for the future is so minor in comparison to touching the lives of children who, so hurt,” Belinda Howard sighed.

According to Generations United, relatives that take in grandchildren save taxpayers $4 billion each year by keeping them out of foster care. The Howards said that is money that could provide financial relief for grandfamilies or treatment for addicts.

“The incarceration system should not be the only hope we have as families to pray that our loved ones get sober,” Belinda Howard said.

She said stopping the addiction should be a national priority, especially with the amount of people dying. In the last five years, there have been more than 300 opioid-related overdose deaths in Northwest Florida. It hit a peak in 2015 and has been slowly declining the last two years.

Church hopes the downward trend will continue with the magnitude of the crisis coming to light.

“It’s bigger than any of us can imagine,” Church said.

Church said addiction has redefined the traditional family. She went from mother, to grandmother and then back to mother again. She said it is a choice she would not hesitate to make again.

“I don’t regret those sacrifices,” Church said. “It’s not what I planned. For the sake of the children, I don’t have any regrets.”

Church just launched a Facebook group for grandparents raising their grandchildren in northwest Florida. She hopes to start support groups here locally.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off