There is no doubt that the nation’s opioid crisis has hit Ohio hard. As a result of a generation of young people addicted to — and in some cases, dying from — heroin and opiate-based pain pills, many grandparents have been forced into the role of full-time caregivers for their grandchildren.

There are even great-grandparents rearing young children when their parents’ addictions to drugs render them unfit. While it once might have been a rare occasion to have a relative 65 and over taking full charge of babies, toddlers and older kids left parentless due to drug abuse, it’s sadly become the norm in many families.

Arrangements are often informal

Grandparents and other extended family members who agreed to step up to the plate and care for their addicted relatives’ children may have done so on a casual basis without legal custody orders being filed.

It’s understandable why some guardians may want to keep these custody arrangements informal. As long as the biological parents are alive, hope remains that they might get sober and become the parents their children desperately need.

Then, too, the addicts themselves may refuse to sign custody of their children over to the person caring for them. Drugs affect a person’s judgment, and addicts become manipulative and may even use their children as pawns to wheedle money or favors from relatives.

Making it official protects everyone

It’s important to get a custody order filed and signed by a judge if you are the one taking care of them, however. Without this piece of paper, you may not be able to seek medical treatment for them or even enroll them in school. And should their addicted parents show up and make a scene in order to take off with the kids, you have no legal recourse to keep them.

It’s a big step to have legal custody of another person’s children. But if you are already the de facto parent anyway, this legal document protects you from attempts by the parents to take them on a whim.

It also establishes order out of chaos, which is vital for the kids’ stability. If they are old enough to understand, this can provide them with peace of mind.

Grandparents and other extended family members who step up and assume a parental role for neglected children deserve all the help they can get. In some circumstances, seeking legal custody of the kids could open the door to some financial assistance as well.