More grandparents than ever taking on new role: surrogate parents to their grandchildren<BR>

Kingman resident Rose Hornbrook is one of the 96,062 grandparents raising their grandchildren in Arizona.

She offers her grandchildren hugs, kisses and all the emotional, nutritional and spiritual support a parent normally would.

But there is one thing Hornbrook and many grandparents in the same situation say they don't have enough of - legal rights.

Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom, Sheriff Tom Sheahan, Kingman Police Chief Larry Butler and 30 other agency representatives and grandparents attended a meeting Wednesday at Kathryn Heidenreich Adult Center to address legal issues grandparents raising grandchildren face.

Speakers at the meeting included Billye Wilda, a member of Grandparents United, a national organization, and the co-chairwoman of the Governor's Special Task Force working with the legislature and other agencies to review current statutes and to revise those which are necessary to give grandparents more rights to the grandchildren they are raising.

According to the U.S.

Census Bureau 2000 Census, Arizona ranks no.

15 in the nation in the percentage of total children under age 18 living in grandparent-headed households.

Many of those grandparents and children live in Mohave County.

"We are probably at the high end of the state," Ekstrom said.

"We have so many retirees coming here from other places.

The grandchildren follow them."

Ekstrom said he has seen a lot more adoptions of grandchildren by grandparents in Mohave County in the last four years.

"I have seen parents who have left kids (with grandparents) for a long period of time and then suddenly show up to reclaim them," he said.

"I encourage grandparents to secure their rights through adoption proceedings or guardianship arrangements done privately."

Wilda said a grandparent raising a grandchild without legal custody, a legal guardianship or power of attorney has few legal rights, cannot be a decision-making authority and is not eligible for health care under any personal policy.

"The saddest thing to see are the custody battles," she said.

"I had someone tell me she dropped the child off (at the grandparents) a year and half ago.

Then the father, who had never raised the children, comes and says, 'I want my child."

Wilda said in that situation two young children were taken out of country to live with people they had never seen in squalid, unsanitary conditions, and there was nothing the grandparents could do because they had not applied for legal rights.

Arizona Revised Statutes currently provide four different options to obtain custody of a minor child: guardianship through the Probate Court; non-parent custody through the Family/Domestic Relations Court, dependency action through Juvenile Court and permanent guardianship through Juvenile Court.

Because of legislation passed last year Arizona is one of several state that have grandparent visitation rights, but there is a group that is trying to take those rights away.

"They (National Coalition for the Restoration of Parents Rights) are targeting Arizona.

If we allow this coalition to pass this (rescind rights) we have closed the doors to even seeing our grandchildren," Wilda said.

"This issue deserves the attention of society," said speaker Lupe Solis, an AARP representative and also a member of the task force.

"No agency alone can gain much ground, but we can if we work together.

Solis said although some states get money to address grandparents raising grandchildren issues, while Arizona gets none, Arizona is further ahead than many states regarding grandparent rights.

"Parenting is a tremendous job for anyone, at any age.

Many grandparents are putting their lives on hold to raise another family," Solis said.

"These grandparents deserve all the help and legal rights they can get."

Speakers at the meeting said there are many reasons why there are so many second-time-around parents in recent years.

In many cases grandparents come to the rescue of grandchildren whose natural parents are unwilling or unable to care for their children.

Drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, molestation, abandonment, neglect, divorce, imprisonment or death are some or the reasons, according the Gloria Richhart, the facilitator of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren in Kingman.

Richhart said people need to be made aware that many grandparents in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s have become parents to their grandchildren rather than have the children live with strangers.