The pseudonym Carolyn was used for this article because the grandmother who shared her experience is still dealing with the aftermath of her decision to call the Children’s Aid Society and is rebuilding relationships within her family.
Carolyn pointed out that one of the things she has seen the pandemic bring to light is that parents are struggling.
“We hear a lot about the impact of mental health and how that’s affecting people, the rise in substance dependency and substance use,” she said.
As a grandparent, she found herself in a situation where she saw struggles within her family and that her grandchildren were at risk.
“That is such an emotionally charged concern,” said Carolyn. “In my situation, there was drug use in the home of my grandchildren.”
At first, her parental instincts kicked in, and she tried to help fix the problem. She felt it reflected how she raised her kids, so she tried to be supportive and find solutions. However, after a drug overdose in the household, she realized that the solution would need to be bigger than any help she could offer.
“You realize that you need to turn to other supports to advocate for the children in the home, and that is a hugely painful situation to come to because before you make that call, you are already aware of some of the problems going on,” said Carolyn. “I think to some degree as parents; we want to believe they are not happening in the home.”
One of the biggest things she had to wrestle with while deciding whether to contact Children’s Aid or not was the fear of what would happen after the call.
“Some of the things that I started to recognize were a lot more tension in my grandchildren’s family environment,” she said. “There was a lot of screaming, a lot of yelling – they would talk about Dad being angry, Mom being sad. Ultimately what happened was – you start to think can I do things to assist what is happening, but then you realize it is something bigger, and there was an overdose from drug use. As a grandparent, that is really, really scary.”
Carolyn heard about the overdose but not what drug was involved. The situation left her anxiety ridden.
“it’s so scary to think, what if your grandchildren potentially walked in on that, would there be some residue or something like that they might touch,” she said. “Fentanyl is a terrifying word, and when you hear about these things or start to understand that someone is struggling with substance dependency in that home as a family member, it is really, really scary.”
“When you understand that you need to make that call to a children’s advocacy organization like Children’s Aid or Family and Children’s Services, that is a horrible, horrible, horrible experience as a grandparent to do that. It just turns your whole world inside out. You don’t know if you will ever see those grandkids again, and you don’t know what will happen. All you know is that there is a problem, and you need to be sure the kids are being advocated for and looked after.”
When Carolyn did make the call to make sure her grandchildren were safe, she said the aftermath was terrible. Her child told her they could not believe she made the call.
Carolyn believes to some degree, what she told the Children’s Aid Society on the phone and what was explained to the parents was misinterpreted.
“(Children’s Aid) view it through a different lens in terms of emergent need and getting there, but what the interpretation was that they told my family members wasn’t what I had said,” she said.
The result of the call was that her child and their partner told Carolyn that they felt they had been “thrown under the bus.”
“It doesn’t matter because you have hurt them. You have broken a relationship in their eyes, and that is hugely upsetting in a family to do that.”Carolyn
The call was not made unexpectedly. She had expressed to her family that she felt she needed to make that call.
“It doesn’t matter because you have hurt them,” said Carolyn. “You have broken a relationship in their eyes, and that is hugely upsetting in a family to do that. When you think about making those calls, as a family member, you are in turmoil, trying to decide if this is the right avenue to take in this situation.”
While contemplating making the call, she understood the potential losses involved.
“You may lose contact with those grandchildren,” said Carolyn. “Family get-togethers will never be the same.”
She felt there was a lot of healing to be done for everyone involved in the aftermath of making a call like the one she believed she needed to make.
“Who supports that healing?” she asked.
In her research, Carolyn found initiatives that are more proactive for families to work together, allowing parents to advocate and let people know that although they may have been struggling, they have also found supports to work through issues. However, Carolyn has found that initiatives that bring everyone to the table to make sure people thrive instead of feeling punished are not widely available in many areas.
In her experience, there was no follow-up after she made the call from the Children’s Aid about how they were dealing with the situation, and her child and partner told Carolyn she was “dead” to them shortly after she made the call.
“You sit there, and you feel sick, and everything in your life is affected because now you think – I made this call, was it the right thing to do?” she said. “it’s one thing to make that courageous step to do what is right, and again, particularly in this climate where families are struggling. They need support, so as I say, it’s one thing to have the courage to make that call, but after that, you are floating on your own.”
During the pandemic, Carolyn saw things get more difficult for her child and partner with limited resources and closed schools.
“I think those were big factors, and definitely, those things affected everyone,” she said. “I can only hope that with some of these restrictions lifting, they will have support there and access to counselling. One of the things that I know did come out of the Children’s Aid visit was some Zoom counselling. Still, I have to wonder how successful it is for people who are already feeling tapped out and already having difficulty navigating things like homeschooling – how successful is that going to be for someone who already feels stressed?”
Before making the call to the Children’s Aid Society, Carolyn was very involved in the life of her grandchildren.
“When things got stressful, I would get a call asking me to take them for a bit to give the parents a break,” she said. “Immediately after all of this, the relationship broke down. There was no communication. The only communication was a barrage of anger and what I would essentially call hate communication because I hurt them. They trusted me. They felt supported, and this was a major kick in the face – ‘we’re struggling enough as it is, we’re having a hard time with stuff. You can see that, and now you go call the Children’s Aid Society on us.’”
Carolyn said she understands that child advocacy workers have a job to do and see many horrific things which impact the decisions they make
“They have essentially a triage system when someone calls in, and I understand that they have certain things that do raise red flags,” she said.
“I don’t regret making the call because the thing is, I knew there was an overdose; I didn’t know what drugs.”Carolyn
The support Carolyn provided for her child and partner, allowing them breaks from parenting has slowly come back into the relationship, and she has received some calls asking for help, but the relationship is different.
“We are rebuilding things from there, but it changed the relationship,” she said. “I don’t regret making the call because the thing is, I knew there was an overdose; I didn’t know what drugs. I can’t know, so what did I do? I do the next best thing that I can do. I refer it to someone who can go and find that information and make sure those children are okay … Had I known I would not be included in the conversation afterward, I don’t know if I would have made that call again. I don’t know.”
Carolyn believes a family decision-making model that can bring other people to the table to support the family, instead of making them feel like somebody threw them under the bus, would have been preferable to her family’s experience.
“As grandparents and family members, we do something out of profound love and fear because we are afraid for our grandchildren, but unfortunately, that’s not how people will receive it,” she said. “I think if there was a way, we could do those things and have it not be so adversarial, I think you would have more people reaching out for support.”
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