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Support group organizes to help parenting grandparents

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By Becky Barnes

It’s the middle of the night  when a ringing telephone pierces through the bedroom of a slumbering couple who have visions of retirement in the very near future.

However, the news on the other end of the phone changes not only their plans for retirement but the rest of their lives as well.

“Come and get your grandchild,” says the caller.

The couple has found themselves at the mercy of a court system and facing other obstacles never before dreamed of and thrust into the role of raising their toddler grandchild.

“We’re happy to do it, don’t get me wrong, but don’t treat us so badly,” said Merrill Mitchell, lead minister at Unity Christian Church.

A grandparents support group has been started at Unity to help those who have found themselves raising or helping to raise their grandchildren through either a court order or a family services placement.

The group started three months ago, with the fourth meeting to be held Monday, March 25, at 7 p.m. in the fellowship hall of the church.

Mitchell said that during the hour-long meeting participants will receive information from guest speakers or sharing their own experiences.

Mitchell, who worked in the family court system since its inception, said he and his wife, Debbie, found themselves on the receiving end of a middle-of-the-night phone call.

Having worked on the other side of the bench, Mitchell said it has been an eye-opening experience.

“It seems like everyone is represented except the grandparents,” Mitchell said. “We are almost treated like culprits by everyone except the judge.”

Often the grandparents are accused of breaking up the family unit by the child’s parents, when in reality the grandparents are keeping the child from having to enter the foster care system.

Mitchell said it’s a shock to go from having your grandchild visit to looking for day care services and insurance.

While the main focus of the group is to offer support to on another, Mitchell said they would also like to see some laws changed that would help grandparents who are plunged back into child raising.

Mitchell said some things should just be automatic.

The grandparents shouldn’t have to hire an attorney to file for child support.

Getting health insurance is another hurdle that Mitchell said should be in place immediately, not two or three months after the grandparents have taken in their grandchild.

Mitchell said in some situations, making court appearances every two weeks becomes a burden on their employers or the grandparents cannot get off work.

“It’s so frustrating,” Mitchell said. “You would do anything in the world for them.”

The support group generally meets on the third Monday of the month, with the exception of this month’s meeting, which is Monday.

Guest speakers, such as retired family court judge David Melcher, Debbie Spicer, counselor and a family services supervisor, are just a few who will be on hand.

Mitchell said the meetings are open to anyone who finds themselves raising a child unexpectedly.

 For more information, contact Mitchell at the church at 234-5113 or evenings he can be reached at 588-2920.