TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Normally the idea of sitting before a judge wouldn't seem like a great opportunity, but Monday at the West Toledo Branch Library, it was for grandparents raising their grandchildren.
At the center of the devastating opioid epidemic are families including grandparents left with the responsibility of raising their grandkids.
"It's been estimated that over 8,000 children in Lucas County are being raised by their grandparents so it's a huge issue. It's part of the opioid crisis I believe," said Judge Jack Puffenberger, Lucas County Probate Court. "There are many young people out there who have children that can't parent, and this responsibility falls upon the grandparents and they are doing the best they can."
With few foster homes available, the court system is trying to empower and engage families to create the best environment for a child.
"Education is so important for these folks and I think if we can inform them of what makes the most sense in general what the law is what their rights and responsibilities are and to be there to answer those questions," explained Judge Connie Zemmelman, Lucas County Juvenile Court. "We take a lot for granted that we forget people don't all know that and understand things that are important in the system."
These grandparents are navigating parenting and the law: questions about grandparent visitation rights, family drug court, and differences between states. While options are available, many families don't know about them until after a crisis. That's what judges want to help with.
"It's very difficult because it's not a natural situation for someone to be in litigation with their child so a lot of times the birth parents believe they can still parent and the grandparents know they can't, they're their own children," explained Judge Puffenberger of the complication of these cases.
Grandparents caring for their grandkids because of opioid use is becoming increasingly common, but judges are determined to create the best situation for the children.
The next "Grandparent Project" session will focus on law with an attorney and is at Kent Branch Library on Tuesday April 24th from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.