ARDMORE, OK -- One out of 10 children is now being raised by their grandparents, and Oklahoma ranks one of the top states in the nation for grand families.
Pam Kerkstra has two grown kids of her own, but four years ago, her life changed when she had to take in her two grandsons.
"When you start to get older and you think you're headed into more leisure time and you have that game plan for your future and all of a sudden you're thinking, 'wow, I have to be thinking about raising a second set of children'," said Pam.
Austin & Brendan Yanev are Pam's grandsons, who moved in after they're mom couldn't care for them anymore and their dad moved out of the country.
"He actually married someone in Ukraine that he met and he left us with our mom with health problems. So when that case came up, they decided to bring us to our grandparents. It's really common here in Oklahoma to live with your grandparents," said Austin.
According to 2010 Census data there are over 100,000 children in Oklahoma being raised by their grandparents or other family members and for various reasons.
"Substance abuse, incarceration, the employment situation; the way it is young mothers and fathers who might not be ready to take on that responsibility," said Pam.
"Somehow, the system broke down; parenting was not absorbed I think by certain generations," said Cavnar.
Judy Cavnar is the advocate for grandparents raising grandkids and says beside the emotional aspect, there are additional stresses for these families to worry about.
"This is a very difficult problem because grandparents didn't financially plan to raise their grandchildren," said Cavnar.
Cavnar has spoken to several local politicians and is pushing for changes to be made in the near future, including, "Re-writ[ing] a lot of the laws. This seems to be the generation or a time when there has never been in history so many grandparents raising their grandchildren. So there were not laws on the books to help these grandparents out financially or legally."
After Pam found out she was far from alone, she wanted to connect with others. She helped organize a monthly grand families meeting in Ardmore and works at Systems of Care, an organization that has a program specifically designed to help grand families cope.
"A lot of the people have the thoughts and feelings that I did, and concerns and things that I may not of wanted to voice," said Pam.
Pam says that there are several grandparents who don't seek help because they are afraid they would be seen as unfit guardians, but says that's never the case.
"We can do it together and be a support to one another."
The grand-families support meeting is held the second Wednesday of each month in Ardmore at the First United Methodist church at the Colvert Ministry Center on 503 W. Broadway.
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