For many youngsters, grandparents play a significant role in raising us and molding us into the people we become. I often think about my extended family and how lucky I was to have so many people in my life who cared about me and helped me grow and develop. Many Oklahoma children, unfortunately, are not as fortunate as I was; they do not have an older generation of family members in their lives who can teach and assist them in their formative years.
While it is a well-documented fact that many children are lacking positive adult role models, the state is inadvertently exacerbating that situation, especially when it comes to grandparents.
In the U.S. Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville, the Supreme Court discussed parents’ fundamental rights to raise and rear their own children. It should be noted though, the Troxel case refused to strike down a Washington state law granting substantial grandparent visitation. Due to this, the Troxel case left states with varying degrees of grandparent visitation throughout the nation.
Oklahoma’s Supreme Court did strike down an earlier version of an Oklahoma Grandparent Visitation Statute as unconstitutional based on Troxel. Today, Oklahoma law grants grandparents visitation rights when three factors are present, specifically:
- Grandparent visitation serves the child’s best interests;
- The grandchild’s parent(s) are unfit or the grandchild would be harmed if grandparent visitation didn’t occur; and
- The grandchild’s nuclear family unit has been dissolved.
All three elements must be present for a grandparent to receive court-ordered visitation rights. There have been cases here in Oklahoma which the court has ruled against plaintiffs for not meeting all three points. If changes are considered, OICA will be involved to encourage a fair system to benefit the children impacted.
Visitation is not the only family-related concern. Today, when a foster parent takes a child into their home, they receive a certain level of compensation from the state to help raise their foster child. However, when a grandparent or other family member steps in to provide a safe home for a child, the same financial support is not available.
I worked on this issue as a legislator, and I know there would be a significant cost to providing additional aid for grandparents and family members who become guardians to children. However, other states have elected to pay a portion of those costs, knowing that providing a safe and stable home for a child is a good investment. If funds are available, this would prove to be a tremendous asset for struggling Oklahoma families.
Outside of Oklahoma, Congress is also exploring ways to help grandparents who become guardians. Recently, the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act was advanced. This mandates creation of a federal advisory council to review policies around the nation. This council will be charged with locating established national resources, investigating best practices, researching how to raise children and finding useful information for older relatives raising children, with a special focus on those affected by opioid addiction.
I will keep you posted regarding these issues, but I also know this area will be one of the many topics of discussion at the Fall Forum, to be held on October 24-25 at the Oklahoma State Capitol. We would welcome your participation and input if you are able to join us those days in shaping a better future for Oklahoma’s children through improved state policies. Registration is online at oica.org for the conference.