PLAINS TWP. — George Nelson didn’t expect to be attending tee-ball games at his age.
Nelson, 67, of Dallas, and his wife, Marcia, have adopted their two grandsons: Dominic, 8, and Devon, 7.
“It’s been a real change for us,” Nelson said. “We’ve sacrificed a lot of our retirement plans to provide a good home for our grandsons.”
The Nelsons are only one of many area couples who are part of a growing trend — grandparents raising grandchildren.
On Friday, the seventh annual NEPA Grandparents Raising Grandchildren conference was held at The Woodlands Inn and Resort, an event that was themed “They’re here, now what? Navigating your new way of life.”
Luzerne County Judge Jennifer Rogers was the keynote speaker and provided the nearly 200 in attendance with the latest on grandparents’ rights and custody issues.
Howard Grossman, chairman of the NEPA Inter-generational Coalition, and Brenda Saba, a grandparent herself raising one child, said the coalition consists of a wide range of social service agencies and grandparents.
Grossman, current fundraising director of the Pittston Memorial Library, said the library has taken over the responsibilities of administering the work of the coalition.
Grossman said a Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group will hold its first official meeting at noon Sept. 30 at the Pittston library.
According to the coalition, more than 165,000 children in Pennsylvania are being raised in households headed by grandparents.
Nelson said he and his wife adopted their grandsons in 2011 to keep the family together. He said his daughter, Kristen, remains in her sons’ lives as she struggles to rebuild her life.
“If we didn’t adopt them, they would have been placed in foster care and we might never have seen them again,” Nelson said. “So now my wife and I find ourselves helping them with homework, tee-ball and everything else. Our vacations include them.”
A retired corrections officer, Nelson worked at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas. His wife is retired from Penn State University.
“But we did what was best for the kids. They have a strong home and school environment,” he said. “And my daughter has the chance to put her life back together.”
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, there are 2.4 million grandparents raising their grandchildren in the United States. Rogers said there are eight main reasons why: parental substance abuse, parental abuse/neglect, incarceration of parents, mental and/or physical illness, teen pregnancy, abandonment, divorce and death.
In Pennsylvania, said Rogers, 81,112 children live in homes where their grandparents are responsible for their care. Of that number, Rogers said 30,656 have no parents living in the home with their children. About 65 percent of the households are white/non-Hispanic, 25 percent black/African American, 8 percent Hispanic/Latino and 2 percent Asian, she said.
Rogers said 68 percent of grandparents raising their grandchildren are under the age of 60 and 19 percent are living in poverty. “Every parent deserves every opportunity to make things right,” she said. “However, the child’s best interests must always be assured.”
Rogers faces tough decisions every day on custody of children, she said. She decides each case by looking through the eyes of the children, she said.
Rogers was elected in 2011 and has been assigned to Family Court. She has handled numerous adoption petitions and custody-visitation issues involving grandparents raising grandchildren.
Rogers praised the grandparents for their work and dedication to their grandchildren.
“You are an inspiration to your grandchildren,” she said.
Saba said: “We are pleased to once again sponsor this event for a population that often is neglected and forgotten. The coalition and this conference help so many grandparents and relative caregivers meet their responsibilities the second time around.”