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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp talks about ways to help grandparents take of their grandchildren. Raju Chaduvula / Forum News Service

Heitkamp meets with 'grandfamilies' to discuss foster parenting, opioid crisis

FARGO—As the opioid crisis continues to ravage communities, grandparents across the country are caring for grandchildren because parents are struggling with opioid abuse.

The battle was outlined here on Tuesday, Aug. 7, during a discussion hosted by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Several grandparents who've taken in their grandchildren — a group that has become known as "grandfamilies" — voiced their ideas on what needs to change to improve care and support for the children and their families.

Issues brought up ranged from access to resources, therapy for families and children, trauma counseling and tax credits for foster parents taking care of their grandkids.

"These kids have seen an awful lot," said Amy Boisjolie, one of the grandparents at the meeting.

Amy and her husband, Blair Boisjolie, said their three grandchildren, and other children of parents struggling with drug abuse, need to have the space to talk because it's often hard for kids to express what they've gone through.

In addition, they said, schools need more trauma training and counselors.

Other grandparents appeared to agree with the Boisjolies, affirming with nods the suggestion for increased counseling and therapy options.

It happened often during the discussion, with a wave of nods and "I agree" statements passing through the room when a grandparent recalled an incident or behavior others have experienced, as well.

One topic everyone in the room agreed on was the need for easier ways to get to resources for children.

Nancy McKenzie, executive director of PATH North Dakota, a private nonprofit child and family services agency, said every family faces unique problems, and it's important to help them find a solution that fits for them.

Sandy Reynolds, one of the grandparents in attendance, said it would help families if there was a way they could go to one place to get answers concerning any legal, financial or medical questions they have.

The solution Heitkamp proposed is to provide social and family services organizations with "navigators" that would help guide parents and grandparents to the right resources.

"We need to make this easier for people," McKenzie said.

Reynolds said even though her family is financially stable, the daily costs of child care are not cheap.

Another grandparent talked about the cost incurred for medical care for her grandchildren who struggle with mental health.

Reynolds said one way to financially help grandparents is through tax credits and tax reductions. She said foster parents and kinship parents aren't provided with as many tax credits as biological parents.

Many grandparents in the room said the same thing: it's not about the money, it's about the kids.

"They're our grandchildren," said one grandparent who is caring for grandchildren due to her daughter's struggles with alcoholism. "We're going to do anything and everything for them," she added.