Good people and good families go through bad times. Sometimes it takes a long time to turn struggles around; sometimes big changes take place. In those situations, two of the many local organizations that help families are the Chester County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and GRANDFamily Connections of Chester County (“GRANDFamilies”). Many members of the CCSO and “GRANDFamilies” – a network of great yet ordinary people who step in to raise children – intersect throughout the year. In November they are collaborating to provide safety tips and resources for Child Safety and Protection Month.
“Some of the children who most need extra help, safety and protection are those whose parents are unable to care for them because of substance abuse, mental health issues and/or incarceration,” says Deborah Willett, program coordinator for GRANDFamilies, an initiative of Coatesville Center for Community Health. “Homelessness, military deployment and divorce that leads to instability also create needs for resources and new formal or informal living arrangements.”
Two-and-a-half years ago, Willett got a call from a woman whose grandson’s temporary home with a family friend was ending and parents struggled with substance and mental health issues. The grandmother’s limitations kept her from providing a long-term, stable home but she still wanted to see him when she was able. Willett offered to meet her at a church to talk about assistance. Within a week the child was at her house. Two years later she is still providing a safe, secure, stable home.
As relatives create new “kinship” families, or friends such as neighbors, teachers or coaches form fictive families, they interact with CCSO deputies during the process of obtaining Protection from Abuse orders, or when they come to the Chester County Justice Center for court hearings or meetings.
While deputies look out for the safety of all people entering Chester County facilities, they often keep an extra eye out for children. Two years ago, a toddler wandered down a Justice Center hallway when his elderly babysitter fell asleep, and his guardian was in the courtroom. Deputy Melissa Harrington found him and watched out for him in the office until he could be reunited with his caregivers after the custody proceedings.
According to Grandfamilies.org, in Pennsylvania 238,598 children under 18 live in homes where householders are grandparents or other relatives. Willett says that not all children in informal living situations are tracked, however.
“The vast number of children in Chester County living in informal arrangements with grandparents, aunts, neighbors and others would shock many community members. In most cases, people who step in as parents need resources and help because government services aren’t always available for informal situations,” Willett explains.
The CCSO and Grandfamilies offer the following tips to help protect children:
- Schedule an appointment for a free child carseat inspection on a Tuesday morning, 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m., with the CCSO at the Justice Center parking garage by calling 610-344-6139. Travel safely.
- Drop unused prescription medications at the collection box in the lobby of the CCSO in the Justice Center, 201 W. Market Street, West Chester. Prevent young children and teens from getting your old drugs accidentally or deliberately.
- If you or a child is being harmed in your home, call 9-1-1. Children who see a loved one being hurt in their home experience trauma.
- For peer support or to join a GRANDFamily support group, contact Deborah Willett at 610-246-2261 or [email protected].