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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., Aug. 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — While Susan Hoffman’s story tugs at the heartstrings, it is not a sob story. The author has published a book about grandparents’ rights and how she was forced into action after the courts refused to let her petition for visitation with her only grandchild.
Grand Wishes: Advocating To Preserve The Grandparent-Grandchild Bond, published by Collegare Press, is a touching and heartfelt olio of grandparent stories and self-help information, which is not only emotionally evocative, but also details Hoffman’s inspiring journey of self-discovery as she confronted the enforced alienation which spurred her into uncharted legislative and non-profit territory.
According to Carleen Brennan, co-author of Custody For Fathers: “Susan starts out a little like Danielle Steele, and before you know it you are treading into the legislation process.”
Hoffman, of Newport Beach, California, became the target of alienation by the custodial parent, resulting in a separation from her grandson just a month short of her grandchild’s fifth birthday. Devastated and committed to supporting other disenfranchised grandparents, she started her own support group. That group developed into a non-profit organization, ADVOCATES FOR GRANDPARENT-GRANDCHILD CONNECTION. Bolstered by the ensuing support, Hoffman’s advocacy for preserving the grandparent-grandchild connection intensified into activism in the form of a bill which she lobbied for and sponsored.
Finally, after a year of petitioning and with the support of California Assemblyman Van Tran (R-Garden Grove), all 120 legislators unanimously agreed on the importance of the grandparent-grandchild relationship and passed California Bill AB2517, which was signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Aug. 22, 2006 and became law the following January.
Research indicates denying access to the grandparent-grandchild bond is a form of emotional child abuse. Extended family relationships are crucial to a child’s development in every way, and denied visitations not only cause the grandparents to suffer, but equally harm the children as well.
Grand Wishes advocates that that the special and deeply significant bond between grandparent and grandchild be preserved and revered, and details the inspiring story of a woman’s foray into the justice system to ensure that reality.
STU NEWS NEWPORT: Take Five: Meet Susan Hoffman, grandparent-grandchild advocate
By AMY SENK
The old-school image of an elderly person in a rocking chair probably isn’t what comes to mind when you think about a grandparent these days. Sure, grandparents may babysit and bake cookies, but they also take kids skiing and to yoga classes. Except when they can’t, because custodial issues get in the way. More than a decade ago, Susan Hoffman began a support group for estranged grandparents and worked to pass a state law that allows grandparents to petition the court for visitation after a stepparent adoption. She also founded the noprofit group Advocates for Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, and this week, the Newport Beach City Council voted to award her a $1,000 Community Program Grant. I caught up with Susan to find out more.
Q: What led you to form the Advocates for Grandparent-Grandchild Connection organization, and can you share some of its history?
A: It was the heartbreak of losing access to my only grandchild when he was four years old that led me to become an activist on behalf of the grandparent-grandchild relationship. And it was the fact that there were others in the same situation that led me to form Advocates For Grandparent-Grandchild Connection. There was a gap in a California law that prohibited me from filing for court-ordered visitation. I spent three years hitting one wall after another, pleading with legislators to do something about the existing law that prevented a grandparent from filing a petition for visitation following a stepparent adoption. Finally, in 2006 California Assemblyman Van Tran agreed to carry my bill to allow grandparents standing in court, and in January 2007, the bill that I sponsored became law. About the same time, realizing the importance to talk to others who were experiencing the same problem, I ran an ad in a local Laguna Beach “throw-away” paper inviting alienated grandparents to call me about starting a support group. The first meeting with four grandparents was held in the Laguna Beach American Legion in 2005. We expanded to the OASIS Senior Center in Corona del Mar the following year, where we remained for 12 years, and currently we meet in a more private location at a residential clubhouse. With such a growing social problem, the in-person support group expanded into a national source of support, information and an educational, charitable nonprofit organization for grandparents experiencing visitation issues.
Q: Why is a grandparent-grandchild relationship so important?
A: The grandparent-grandchild relationship is like no other, built on mutual love and affection, and once that bond is formed it is precious and should not be unnecessarily broken – ever. Grandparents are there because they choose to be. Grandparents are a part of a child’s history, and grandchildren are part of a grandparent’s future. The grandparent-grandchild relationship is important not only to a grandparent but to the welfare and emotional development of the child. Children deserve to have all of the love they can get and to be able to keep it. When a child is unreasonably denied that love, there is bound to be negative consequences. Dr. Eleanor Willemsen, professor of developmental psychology at Santa Clara University, in her article “Best Interests of a Child,” describes the effects on a child when attachments are broken, among them loss of security and abandonment issues. She emphasizes the harm that happens “when a child loses ongoing intimate relationships.” “Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being,” said Margaret Mead (anthropologist). “Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation,” said Lois Wyse (advertising executive, author and columnist). Often the greatest source of grief for grandparents arises from concern for the child: The impact on that child when a beloved grandparent is abruptly removed from their life. Grandparents wonder, “Do they feel abandoned? Unloved? Will they think that it is somehow their fault?”
Q: The Newport Beach City Council is granting the organization $1,000 in community grant money. What does this mean to you, and how will you use the funds?
A: Support from the city of Newport Beach, where we are based, helps to provide continued assistance to those most vulnerable in our community by way of ongoing support groups, education, books and films.
Q: You’ve written books and articles and organize events and support group meetings. Which aspect of this advocacy work has been most meaningful or inspirational to you?
A: The books, website articles, blog and a documentary film became not only an outlet for my thoughts and feelings but a way to help other grandparents. A website, book and film all provide a greater outreach to the masses, to lend support, inform and educate grandparents who may be going through a tough time. I feel inspired every time the helpline phone rings or emails arrive creating a connection with that caller or that writer who is seeking answers and support. Our in-person support groups will always hold a special place in my heart with many of the longtime grandparent clients, some 14 years, feeling more like a family member. To be among others who are experiencing a similar situation is like a lifeline for these grandparents. Positive feedback from online, written material and individual support opportunities are all a testimony that our organization has had a meaningful impact. We are always appreciative when we receive assistance to help spread the word that there is help out there and grandparents no longer have to suffer in silence. Grandparent clients have found us through referrals from outside agencies, television appearances and fundraising events
Q: What advice do you have for a grandparent who wants to create a loving and close relationship with a grandchild?
A: What we teach grandparents is a suggested set of communication principles, in which we have had successes, to be applied toward the parents or custodial caregiver, which will help them maintain that loving close relationship with a grandchild. In our experience, when a grandparent steps over a boundary, sometimes there’s no second chance. Do not offer unsolicited advice, or opinions and if asked, be careful. Do not criticize, try to control, preach, scold, lay guilt or triangulate. Do, however, be there for the child as well as the parents. Grandparents may be best served by doing whatever it takes to remain connected, even if that means walking on eggshells.
Editor’s Note: For more information about Advocates for Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, check out www.grandparentchildconnect.org.