Challenged Hope

Grandmother raising Grandchildren with FASD in Hamilton Ontario Canada


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A Heartfelt Plea to Teens Everywhere

For almost two decades I have been raising mentally disabled grandchildren, and while I love them dearly, the sacrifices I have had to make over those years have been challenging. When my adopted daughter, who is also disabled, was fifteen, she ran away from our home where she was greatly loved to be with a sixteen year-old boy with equally disabling challenges whom she thought she loved. The result of that union was a child, my first grandchild.

Their romance didn’t last and, when my daughter discovered she was pregnant, she asked to return home. That was the beginning of a great upheaval in my life which continues to this day, sixteen years later, as I now raise several of her children, all developmentally delayed and identified with various disabilities, these being: Intellectual Disability, ADHD, ODD, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, severe behaviour problems, anxiety disorders, and learning disabilities.

After the birth of her first child, my daughter left home again and went on to give birth to a total of seven children over the next eight years. Over the course of that time, I applied for custody of four of them with each one of my grandchildren being placed in my care when just a few weeks of age. The youngest being a cocaine baby whoexperienced the trauma of being delivered in a toilet at her mother’s home. After numerous court appearances, assessments, and interviews, I was granted sole custody of each child before they reached the age of two. They have three more siblings out there somewhere that my grandchildren are not aware exist and will in all likelihood never meet.

While it’s not my intention to lay guilt trips or blame on anyone, please read the following brief list of changes that raising grandchildren has made to my life and then learn how it could all so easily have been avoided.

From the day I discovered my fifteen year-old daughter was pregnant:

  • It seemed the whole neighbourhood discovered it too, causing nasty gossip and speculation as to who the father was.
  • At first, my daughter asked to raise her child at home, but I soon found myself forced into a decision to register her in a group home for pregnant teens when at eight and a half months pregnant she was hanging out on the downtown streets, drinking and getting high with friends.
  • Although I was myself a single mother raising three children of my own, after causing my family much distress by running away from home, my daughter, on learning she was pregnant, decided to come back home and have the child. As the father was, by that time, out of the picture I was naturally expected by the public health nurse to be my daughter’s coach during the delivery of my first grandchild.
  • While my daughter was registered in the group home I visited her daily and invested time in attending meetings around her, and her child’s, future.
  • Due to her decision to return home after giving birth, there was endless baby items to purchase. Naturally, due to her young age, this financial burden was placed upon my shoulders.
  • For the short time she returned home with her baby, she was visited weekly by a parents’ aide during which time I was expected to be supportive of her attempts to parent, despite her disabilities which invariably challenged both her ability and desire to be a mother, which led to my having to complete the parenting tasks myself.
  • When the few weeks she decided to parent came to an end, the CAS informed me that my daughter’s son would have to be placed in foster care. At the time, my daughter asked me to seek custody of my grandson.
  • When I informed the CAS I had decided to seek custody I was subject to an assessment, police check, regular visits to my home by a caseworker, a financial assessment by legal aid, and a consultation with a lawyer who put forth a plan of care on my behalf.
  • Within weeks, the child was placed in my care and my daughter left home again. While I parented her child she lived at various friend’s homes or on the street. During this time, she was held at knife point by one so-called friend.
  • A year later, I learned she was pregnant again by a different man.
  • By the time her first child was three and a half, she had given birth to another child who was ultimately adopted, and was pregnant with her third child of whom I took custody.
  • Less than one year later, her fourth child came along of whom I took custody, followed by her fifth child who was adopted out, followed by her sixth child of whom I took custody, until finally she had her seventh child who the CAS allowed her to keep.
  • Throughout this time I learned that all four children suffered with various disabilities and for the past sixteen years have been involved with their special needs 24/7.

It’s almost impossible to describe how emotional these past years have been, so I will simply close by encouraging sexually active TEENS everywhere to practice birth control. I cringe at the thought that all it would have taken to avoid my becoming a grandmother raising grandchildren was the use of birth control pills by my daughter, or condoms by the children’s fathers. Such a simple task overlooked by so many TEENS who honestly believe becoming a parent will not happen to them.

If you are a sexually active teen and live in Hamilton, Ontario, or the surrounding area and are looking for information on sexual health, there is a website that provides this information at http://www.hamilton.ca. Click Public Health and Social Services, and in the A-Z list click S for Sexual Health.

The website states it offers information on:

  • STD (sexually transmitted disease) Clinic
  • Anonymous HIV testing
  • Sexual Health Clinics
  • Street Health Clinic
  • The Van Needle Exchange Program
  • Sexual Health Information Line
  • Free Condoms in Hamilton If you click on the free condoms post you will find instructions on how to use either a male condom or a female condom, plus the locations where you can receive free condoms.

The website offers more Information including:

  • Age of Consent in Canada
  • Questions & Answers
  • Statistics in Hamilton
  • Fact sheets for Sexually Transmitted Diseases
  • Links and other websites
  • Mandatory Blood Testing Act 2006
  • Being Sexually Exploited – Find out what sexual exploitation is, and learn Online Safety Tips.

The Sexual Health Information Line for Hamilton is: 905-528-5894 (confidential, no call display)
Email: publichealth@hamilton.ca

A few years ago, while waiting in line at the doctor’s office reception to check in for my appointment, a girl of high-school age was waiting ahead of me and when it was her turn she leaned right in and whispered something to the receptionist, who promptly looked up and with a loud voice announced, “OH NO! YOU NEED A WALK-IN CLINIC. IF YOU ARE NOT A PATIENT HERE THE DOCTOR CAN’T SEE YOU!” with which the young lady turned on her heels and ran toward the exit.

I felt my heart sink. There was obviously something very important the young girl needed help with, but didn’t know where to go. I’m not saying it was her sexual health, but from her embarrassment when the receptionist decided to announce to the whole world that there was no room for her at the inn, it was pretty clear, to my mind anyway, that this young woman, who wasn’t with a parent, was looking for help for a very private matter. I think about her often, and wonder if she got the help she seemed so desperately to need.

So, if you are looking for a doctor in the Hamilton, Ontario area call the Hamilton Academy of Medicine at 905-528-1611 or go to http://www.hamiltondoctors.ca to find out which doctors in your area are accepting new patients. You will need to call the doctor’s office to set up an appointment before you go, and remember to take your health card.

If you are a minor male or female and are being sexually abused, call the Hamilton, Ontario police at 911; and the Children’s Aid Society at 905-522-1121, or after hours emergency at 905-522-8053 or the Catholic Children’s Aid Society at 905-525-2012, or after hours emergency at 905-522-5606.

If you are a male or female and in a sexually abusive relationship and need help getting out, call the Hamilton, Ontario police at 911. For females, also call SACHA sexual assault center at 905-525-4162, http://www.sacha.ca. If you are a male or female victim of rape, incest, or human trafficking, call Hamilton, Ontario police at 911.

If you are a minor who is being sexually abused and cannot speak to your caregivers about it, call the Hamilton, Ontario police at 911 and the Kids Help Line at 1-800-668-6868. The website is http://www.KidsHelpPhone.ca. Keep telling people until you are believed.

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Child and Adolescent Services of Hamilton, Ontario

According to the http://www.hamilton.ca website, Child and Adolescent Services is an…

  • Outpatient Children’s Mental Health Centre funded by The Ministry of Children and Youth Services. Our staff includes Child and Youth Workers, Clinical Therapists, Psychometrists (specialists in psychological testing), Marriage and Family Therapists, a Psychological Associate and Social Workers. Together, we have a wide variety of skills and experience.
  • We offer family therapy, individual counselling, play therapy, psychotherapy, psychological testing and consultation to community agencies and facilities. Our Forensic Unit offers services for those in trouble with the law (assessments for fire setters, sex offenders, Young Offenders and post dispositional treatment for Young Offenders). We also offer specialized treatment services for trauma and dissociation.
  • The programs at Child and Adolescent Services are designed to meet the unique needs of our clients. Our staff start with the basic premise that all families have strengths and resources. Our goal is to identify these unique strengths and resources, and to support families who are working towards a positive future. We believe in the uniqueness of individuals and their right to discreet, confidential services.

We value each person as an important and unique individual as perceived by self and others.

  • The family is the natural place of the child while affirming the child’s need and right to interact with the community and to be safe in all environments.
  • Respect the rights of others to hold values and beliefs different from those we hold ourselves.
  • Treatment, research and prevention which utilizes several disciplines and partnerships within the community and beyond.
  • Good morale and the contributions of all staff and others involved with clients.
  • Child and Adolescent Services’ strategic involvement in the community (planning).
  • Clients have the right to be involved in planning their services and have rights to information where appropriate.

As a grandmother raising grandchildren with ADHD, FAS, Intellectual disabilities, and behavioural disorders, I am guilty of being overly confident of their ability to make sound choices, and of being naive about what the future might bring. For some strange reason, when I took custody of my grandchildren, I thought our future together would be bright despite the fact that their birth mother (my daughter), and their fathers suffered from equally or more severe disabilities as the children themselves, so when one of my grandchildren, on becoming a teen, began showing signs of being severely out of control, I put it down to adolescence when I should have been much more aware of the confusion disabled adolescents might suffer as they enter their teen years.

As a result of my grandchild’s actions, the police became involved and he was charged with criminal activity. We as a family were subsequently directed to Child and Adolescent Services of Hamilton, Ontario, for assessments and counselling. Now, I have to admit, after all the emotional turmoil I experienced when seeing my grandchild arrested, charged, and incarcerated, I wasn’t looking forward to being reminded how bad a parent I was by any counselor, so I’m pleased to report that the staff at the Child and Adolescent Centre couldn’t have been more understanding, which certainly took a load of unnecessary guilt off my mind. Fortunately, after a lengthy physiological assessment by C & A, the court decided that the my grandchild should not be placed in custody and was, instead, placed in foster care and assigned a probation officer.

If you live in the Hamilton-Wentworth area and feel you could benefit from the help of Child & Adolescent Services, please call Contact Hamilton at 905-570-8888 or go to www.hamilton.ca and click on Public Health & Social Services, then choose Child & Adolescent Services from the list.