Parents raise their children with great aspirations and hope for their futures; and few anticipate events that may result in caring for their children’s children or the children of family members. Yet, in Brevard County according to Mary Ann Sterling the Founder and Executive Director of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren there are over 8,500 children living in relative care families.

As we recognize and applaud the 8,500 relatives in our community who care for the children and youth of family and friends, it is important to consider the circumstances experienced by many and how we, as a community can support them. Many adults who as youth experienced the foster care system at some juncture in their life attribute their success to a meaningful connection with an adult who genuinely cared for them. Grandparents, relatives and family friends play a vital role in shaping the life of a child who has been separated from their biological parents.

Yet, many grandparents who assume custody of their grandchildren did not plan for the costs and resources necessary to provide for additional family members at this juncture in their lives so this can place great stress upon them. In addition, –often times family members experience grief, loss and turmoil as a result of the impact addiction, mental health or incarceration of their child or family member can place upon them; and in many instances they have been dealing with these challenges over a long period before the child is ever actually placed with them.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 1 in 5 Americans experienced mental illness in 2013. ( In the past year, 20.7 million adults (8.8%) had a substance use disorder. Of these, 8.4 million people had both a mental disorder and substance use disorder, also known as co-occurring mental and substance use disorders.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 20 million Americans aged 12 or older used an illegal drug in the past 30 days.  This estimate represents 8% percent of the population aged 12 years old or older.  Additionally, the nonmedical use or abuse of prescription drugs–including painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants–is growing, with an estimated 48 million people ages 12 and older using prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons.  This represents approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population.

To compound matters even more, statistics reported by the Treatment Advocacy Center indicate that approximately 20 percent of inmates in jails and 15 percent of inmates in state prisons have a serious mental illness.  Based on the total number of inmates, this means that there are approximately 356,000 inmates with serious mental illness in jails and state prisons.


To all of the caregivers in Brevard who have assumed the responsibility of caring for a grandchild or family member, know that through your sacrifice you are shaping a life, nurturing a child and because of you that child will face a future that may never have been possible. I was that child taken in by a family friend when my father passed away and my mother’s mental health condition impaired her ability to care for me. My life has been changed because of someone like you. Thank you for all you do!


Dr. Patricia Nellius