By Rachel Therrien, Intern for Impact Monadnock
As part of my job at Impact Monadnock I am tasked to interview people whose life stories align with the work of my organization. I recently got in touch with a woman named Lisa*, who shared her story at a screening of the film Raising New Hampshire a few months ago. I exchanged a few emails with Lisa before we met up, during which time I found out that she was a grandmother. Before meeting her, I imagined her to fit the classic grandmother stereotype: an older woman with a gentle, weathered face, soft white hair, and an inviting smile. But when Lisa finally arrived to the restaurant where we met, I was taken by surprise. She was not elderly like I had expected. In fact, she was quite the opposite: a sweet young woman in her forties who radiated warm, positive energy. As soon as she began to speak, her deep compassion for her family and for other grandparents in situations like hers became clearly evident.
Lisa is a grandmother to two young boys, ages 4 and 7, who she cares for full-time. She took custody of the children years ago when their mother — Lisa’s daughter — became addicted to heroin. Lisa was devastated by her daughter’s predicament, but even more concerned about the future of her grandkids. She knew that leaving the boys in her daughter’s care would have tremendous consequences on their quality of life and put them at risk of being entered into the foster care system. Anticipating the worst, Lisa took matters into her own hands. She gained legal custody of her grandchildren in court and once again began her life as a full-time parent.
It was 2012 when Lisa’s daughter began fighting her addiction with heroin. Since then, Lisa and her husband have made huge sacrifices to care for their grandkids. They have worked countless overtime hours. They have put their personal lives on the backburner. They have shouldered the emotional burdens of raising children. The youngest grandchild, who was only six months old when Lisa took him into her care, sees Lisa as his mom. Lisa laments that she has been robbed of her role as a grandparent, but recognizes that taking the boys into her care was the best thing she could have done for them.
Regrettably, Lisa’s struggles don’t stop at the threshold of her home. She is currently locked in an exhausting legal battle with the Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), which is part of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Services. The DCYF disputes Lisa’s claim of her grandkids and wants to return them to the care of their biological mother, who Lisa took in once she was clean. Lisa’s daughter, however, is still in no state to care for her kids. She does not have a home of her own and she works at a job that does not pay well. Lisa is left not only caring for her daughter’s kids, but also fighting constantly to maintain custody of them. Furthermore, because she chose to keep her grandkids out of the foster system and the hands of the DCYF, Lisa does not get the financial assistance that a foster parent would. She is completely on her own.
Although Lisa is overwhelmed and overburdened, she does not stop pushing forward. She recognizes that she is one of the few grandparents with the mental and physical capacity to go through with this difficult process. She hopes to be the voice for those in similar situations who cannot stand up for themselves and their grandchildren like she can. Lisa is fed up with what she believes to be an ineffective system and feels responsible to advocate for change in any way she can.
Lisa’s story speaks to a few of the many problems surrounding early childhood development in the Monadnock Region. It is imperative that we educate our policymakers about the hurdles faced by New Hampshire residents like Lisa and elect candidates who will help change our state for the better. If these issues are important to you, we invite you to show your support at a Legislative Forum on Children and Families this October 10th, from 6:00 – 8:00 PM in the Mabel Brown Room of Keene State College’s Lloyd P. Young Student Center. It will be hosted by Impact Monadnock and the American Democracy Project at Keene State College. You will have a chance to learn more about the plight of young children and their families in the Granite State, hear where your legislative candidates stand on these issues, and raise questions of your own. It is critical that we come together as a community to help our region’s youngest citizens and those who care for them.
*Name changed for privacy reasons
Rachel Therrien is a junior at Trinity College studying Public Policy and Law. She has been interning with Impact Monadnock since July. Her work centers around planning and designing a state legislative forum on early childhood development.
 Impact Monadnock is a nonprofit organization that supports public investment in early childhood development and education. Its backbone partners are the Monadnock United Way and Spark NH. Spark NH is the governor’s advisory council on early childhood. Its Framework for Action is a public policy document that prioritizes ten actions that legislators can take to improve the lives of children and families. Impact Monadnock’s legislative forum is based on this Framework for Action.