Grandparents across Long Island are being faced with an excruciating and emotional decision: choosing between helping their own child or their grandchildren — when they’re all potentially in danger and in need of help.
Jennifer Vann adores her grandsons, Jackson, age 2, and Jordan, age 5. She has full-time custody of the boys and is raising them at her home in Mastic Beach.
“I can be grandma half the time and then I have to be the disciplinarian also, because I’m the mom, too,” she says.
Vann says her daughter — the boys’ mother — is battling a pill addiction. She says her daughter lives with a man who deals drugs, has guns and is abusive.
Vann says she had no choice but to step in to take her children out of a violent situation. She says she tried desperately to get her daughter and grandchildren away from the man, but her daughter always went back.
The grandmother describes the process as an emotional roller coaster — having to separate her desire to help her daughter from the goal of getting her grandchildren out of a dangerous situation.
News 12 tried to reach Vann’s daughter for comment, but the number was disconnected.
MORE COVERAGE: Addicted on LI
Attorney John Virdone has spent the last 12 years handling grandparent custody cases.
“It’s not about grandparents trying to become parents again. Most of them don’t want to go through this,” Virdone says. “They’re doing this because they want to protect the children and they want to keep their grandchildren out of foster care.”
It’s a desire that Shirley’s JoAnn Contino knows personally. She flew to Texas to get her now-9-year-old grandson Ayden out of foster care.
“I thought that I would never see him for the rest of my life. My heart would be broken,” Contino says.
Child Protective Services in Texas removed him from his mother’s care when he was 3. Contino says Ayden’s mother was addicted to methamphetamines. And she says his dad — her son — lost his parental rights while struggling with a heroin addiction.
The 57-year-old grandmother says raising a little boy again was rough at times. There were discipline problems and behavioral issues when Ayden first came to live with her. Contino had to call on all the parenting skills she hadn’t used for years. But now, things are much smoother, and she’s determined to give Ayden the loving, happy, childhood all kids deserve.
At this point, neither of them have a relationship with Ayden’s dad, who lives nearby. Contino says she’s still hoping her son will get his life together, but she does worry that one day there will be a knock on the door and she’ll learn her son died of an overdose. It’s a thought she struggles to put out of her mind, because her whole life now is about Ayden’s wellbeing.
“It’s something you just have to do. You open up your mind and your heart and you say, ‘OK, this is how it is now,'” Contino says.
News 12 contacted Contino’s son for comment. He admitted that he had a drug problem when he lost custody of his son, but he says he’s been clean for several years, has a steady job, a home and the means to care for Ayden. Currently, however, he has no parental rights.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of News 12’s series, Addicted on Long Island: The Youngest Victims. We’ll go inside a support group where most of the grandparents are fighting for or have already won custody of their grandchildren.
And pick up Newsday today or visit Newsday.com for more on this story.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addition, there’s help available.
Nassau Alliance for Addiction Services
NAFAS Addiction Service Links
Nassau County Drug and Alcohol Hotline (24/7) – (516) 481-4000
Suffolk County Substance Abuse Resource Center
Suffolk County/LICADD Substance Abuse Hotline (24/7) – (631) 979-1700
Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Contact SAMHSA – Website or 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services
OASAS Treatment Centers
New York State HOPEline: 877-8-HOPENY (877-846-7369)