Drug crisis prompts 'first in nation' custody law for 10k NH residents raising grandchildren
CONCORD — Rosemary and Denis Nugent are grandparents raising their 8-year-old grandson, also named Denis.
Eight-year-old Denis's father and mother have had drug and alcohol issues for years. Rosemary and her husband have had guardianship for the past four years but have basically raised Denis from birth. Rosemary Nugent said the second time around, they are more tired, and it's harder to keep up with him, but they wouldn't have it any other way.
"We wouldn't know what to do without him," she said. Young Denis answers an enthusiastic "yes" when asked if he likes living with his "Mimi" and "Pop-Pop".
Gov. Chris Sununu signed two bills into law Tuesday, both relating to the rise of New Hampshire grandparents caring for their grandchildren because their parents are either incarcerated or suffer from drug addiction.
HB 629 establishes a preference for the appointment of a child's grandparent as his/her guardian in the case that the parent cannot care for the child due to substance abuse. One of the bill sponsors, Rep. Mariellen MacKay, R-Nashua, said the bill enables the drug-addicted parents to get the help they need without worrying they will lose their rights to their child.
MacKay said the Department for Children, Youth and Families will not have to get involved.
"It's positive, proactive and supports everyone," MacKay said. "What this does is make it easier for grandparents and parents to protect their grandchildren."
She said there are now over 10,000 grandparents in the state raising their grandchildren. "That's a big issue."
With the signing of HB 629, New Hampshire becomes the first state in the nation to pass a law of this kind; helping willing grandparents obtain custody of their grandchildren.
The Nugents, who live in Atrim, are part of a support group there that meets once a month. Rosemary Nugent said the group has been a tremendous help, and they hope other grandparents get the same type of support. She said HB 629 will help "make it easier for us with court proceedings and getting any help that we can get from the state."
Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, sponsored SB 148, which establishes a commission to study the challenges presented when grandparents become full-time caretakers of their grandchildren. One major issue the study hopes to address is the resources to help elderly grandparents who would have retired had it not been necessary for them to raise their grandchildren. Hennessey said she just met a man who was working at a Sears store so he could generate some extra income. Then the Sears closed a couple days later.
"He probably was past the age of retirement but can't retire because he's taking care of his grandchildren," Hennessey said. "We need to hear from the people on the front lines and find out exactly what we need to do to help."
Hennessey said she has four grandchildren and loves them to death but having to think about school and day care and the day-to-day issues that arise when your raising children would be very difficult the second time around. She says of the grandparents who are raising children again, "To me, they're heroes."