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She’s Trying to Get Her Kids Back, but Still Using

Legal Aid

dhpofamily has guardianship of their grandchildren – both parents are actively using. Attempts to set guidelines for visitation have not gone well thus far. Though she recently tested positive for meth, their Loved One is invested in getting her kids back and she is pursuing legal routes to do so.

© mohamed Hassan via Pixabay

Parental Visitation with Children Question:
We had been trying everything we could think of to help my daughter, H, and son-in-law, C, improve their situation and get treatment, but it got to the point where we were concerned for the safety and welfare of the grandkids (6,4) so we requested permanent guardianship. The substances involved are alcohol, methamphetamine and weed (least of our concerns). We didn't have meth use confirmed until the hearing and drug tests came back positive and the parents admitted to having used w/in the last week.
Read dhpofamily’s full comment here.

It is one of the tragic consequences of untreated SUD that children wind up needing others to step in and care for them. Thank you for taking your grandchildren in. We are seeing more and more grandparents stepping in these days as Substance Use Disorders leave parents unable to care for their own children. It is heartbreaking. And yet your grandchildren are so lucky that you are able to be there for them. This is truly a blessing.

Let’s start by giving you some additional resources:

Hazeldenbettyford published this page and book about Grandfamilies. Chapter 3 talks about visitations. From what I can see, much of this book looks sound, though I disagree that H and C need to attend 12 step meetings. They certainly can – that would be great – but there are lots of ways to recover and lots of different self-help programs these days other than the 12 step model.

The website link above provides a list of observations that can signal improvements in a person’s active addiction as well as observations that may indicate the person is not doing well. It’s a focus on action over words. As you have noted, you can’t trust what your daughter and partner say. This is unfortunate, and one day it may not be the case, but for now, you can use the observations to help guide your responses.

I am most familiar with Massachusetts in terms of this particular issue, and it looks like you don’t live in this state. Here though, are few organizations in Massachusetts that are helping grandparents: and Grandparents have been forced to become quite sophisticated in a number of areas, and the law is one of them. There is a contact person to call who almost certainly can help.

I’m impressed by your daughter’s resolve, going to get a degree to fight you for visitation rights. She loves her children. I’m sure your son-in-law does too, but he is sounding more resistant to getting any help. Neither of them seems able to do what you are asking, which is to follow a recovery plan. It’s a big ask.

Really, though, you aren’t saying “don’t use”, you are saying “try not to use,” by taking steps to address the SUD. Instead, your daughter is trying to fight you legally.

It’s incredibly challenging when children are involved. We have written about this topic in various other posts. Some of them may be helpful to read or re-read. Here are our posts on the topic of mothers with SUD. 

The recovery plan condition isn’t working, and you are allowing the family to see each other weekly by video. What do the therapists working with the children say about them seeing their parents?

I would imagine this is difficult in part because the children want to – and on one level, should be able to – see their parents. Their parents are ill. There has been violence in the past but never directed at the children. Using video is therefore a smart idea.

Applying CRAFT, we could say that the kids are a reward. They are a huge reward. What if you tell H and C they can see the children if they aren’t (visibly) high?

I can see the sense in making that weekly video call regardless of what their parents are or are not doing towards a recovery. You do it for the children. It’s also a good-faith gesture.

Plans and promises aside, what if you offered H and C supervised visits in a public place, if they can show up not having used. You schedule these play dates one visit at a time.

The visit is short: an hour in a playground or a roller rink or a counseling center. Could a counseling center give you the playroom for this? The idea is to “use” the kids as a reward. I know that sounds awful, but there’s no way around the fact that the kids are hugely motivating, especially with your daughter. And the kids are already involved, regardless.

If you get to the place you are meeting and H or C looks high, you stay neutral but cut the visit as short as possible. If they both look okay, perhaps the visit lasts longer. You take it one visit at a time. When it goes well, you can make a plan for the next time. If it doesn’t go well, you’ll be less willing to repeat the experience, but you do try it again when you feel up to it.

Please understand I am suggesting this very generically. I don’t know the individual dynamics, which are also important to consider. The principle, though, is to ask H and C to curb the use for just a few hours and to be rewarded with a good family visit.

Such a strategy could make the legal action go away, though it is hard to imagine any judge granting unsupervised visits with methamphetamine in the picture. To the degree you can, make it clear this isn’t about fearing the legal actions, it’s about remaining a family.

It’s hard to see your daughter so caught in her use. There is a lot I could say about couples who use together, and how much harder it is to get any traction with recovery when a partner has different ideas about using substances and recovery. We can revisit this topic a little further down the road. For now the conversations around visitation options is the most important. Perhaps for the first visit, only your daughter comes. If that goes well, you add C. This would make it easier on the both of you, should one look okay and the other one appear high.

I hope the resources and book give you some legal support to address your central question about visitations. What I’ve done here is describe how CRAFT might see the situation regarding visitations in a way that could motivate H and C to curb the use by feeling the reward of being with their children.

Considering the legal action, it is certainly a great challenge to keep your communications open, neutral and even loving, but the CRAFT approach asks that of the family member(s). This doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind, or putting yourselves in danger, but it does require a certain attitude of openness and even vulnerability, staying in the present with those communications whenever the opportunities arise. The bridge is essential, and it is built over time by making simple shifts in your communication style.

One of the critical pieces of this is doing away – on your end – with any kind of adversarial, confrontational stance. The legal action really pushes the envelope on this, and it is a delicate dance indeed given your custody of the children, however we would suggest trying your best to remove any sense of threat/ punishment as you communicate your thoughts and ideas about how to move forward together.

Perhaps it would be worth spending some time writing out what you want to say, or practicing it a few times to make sure you are able to convey your message with clarity and compassion. Keeping things short and sweet is always a good idea. You might even want to visualize yourself having the exchange and spend some time clearly picturing it going how you’d like it to go. Find out what you need to do in order to be centered as you approach the conversation. We are here to support you however you need it. Continue to lean on the resources here – and wherever you have them. We whole-heartedly recommend a diversity of self-care practices for all of the family members on this site.

Please share with us what you learn. I have met some amazing grandparents over the years. I am so sorry this is happening and want to thank you again for the hard and sustained effort that you are making in order to care for your family.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. This is really sound empathic guidance. Thank you Dominique, you have a keen grasp of the nuances and complexities of these issues which is in short supply these days. Keep up your great work supporting families with addiction.

  2. Thank you for such a thorough answer. We are sitting with these suggestions and checking into the resources you shared. Truly appreciating your perspective and what it’s prompting for us.