Around 5,000 children in Winnebago County live full-time with their grandparents, often because the parents are unable to care for their children. That scenario can lead to a bittersweet Mother's Day.
This Mother's Day Michele Stanis is thankful for more than just the gift and card her grandaughter gave her. She's thankful to have Samantha living permanently under her roof.
"It's a wonderful feeling. I know she's safe, I know she's healthy, happy I hope," says Stanis.
Stanis and her husband adopted Samantha a year and a half ago. They're giving the eight-year old a life her mother never could.
"She had substance abuse issues and mental health issues and just kind of slipped away," explains Stanis.
Stanis' joy at having Samantha safe and sound is tempered by the loss of contact with her daughter, Megan. They haven't spoken since last June. She says that's hard enough on a day like today. Worse still, Megan still has custody of her two younger children and won't allow Stanis or Samantha to see them.
Both children lived with Stanis for long periods of time. But even though she went to court to fight to see them, under Illinois state law, grandparents have no legally binding visitation rights.
"The bottom line is the custodial parent still has the option to say no," says Stanis.
Samantha is finding it hard to live without her siblings and to forgive her mother.
"I just didn't want to say happy Mother's Day to her because she took the babies away away from us," says Samantha.
But at least this Mother's Day, Samantha knows she's in the right place.
"She is the best mom I could ever have," she says of her very special grandmother and mother in one.
Stanis is a member of the Freeport Grandparents Raising Grandchildren group. They have monthly meetings to help each other deal with issues they all face and to rally for legislation. For more information contact the group's facilitator Carol Morrisette at 815-599-7343 or CMorrisette@fhn.org.