WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) - Among the countless effects of the heroin epidemic - rehabilitation, incarceration, overdose - the phenomenon of relatives raising children because of parent drug addiction is on the rise.
Grandparents, especially, have taken on the responsibility of raising children.
"We have a good little support group, I guess you could call it," said Dawne Roberts, who is raising her 6-year-old grandson, Jayden. "My husband and I are like the parents. (His mother's) mother and dad and my mom and dad are like the grandparents. It works for us. Even though all of us aren't related or don't necessarily have a close friendship, we work together because of Jayden."
According to a 2015 report from the family research and advocacy group Generations United, which cites alcohol and drug use as the most common reasons for removing children from their homes, about 2.6 million grandparents are raising children.
Some area grandmothers, aunts and cousins who have taken on the role of mother share their stories.
Patricia Lowry of Washington visited her granddaughter, Bailey, while she recovered in the weeks after her birth.
"The days she was in detox and couldn't be held, I rubbed her feet," said Lowry, who continues the habit when Bailey, now 4, can't fall asleep.
Lowry and her husband, William, are raising Bailey and her 2-year-old brother. Bailey has been with them since she came home from the hospital, and her brother has been with them since he was 6 months old.
"I feel like I was given a second chance," said Lowry.
As a young mother, Lowry was addicted to drugs. Her sons were raised by their father. Her daughter, the children's mother, was raised by Lowry's mother and a family friend.
"She's doing what I did," said Lowry of her daughter. "All she wants is my love, and I do love her. But it was all about me and my addiction."
In recovery for years, Lowry said she didn't hesitate when her daughter called and said she was pregnant.
"I said I'd take the baby," Lowry said.
William works days and Lowry works nights. Instead of relaxing during their time off, they help Bailey with her pre-kindergarten homework and watch their grandson's favorite cartoons.
Lowry holds a construction paper turkey with "I'm thankful for Nana" written in crayon, while Bailey dances and her brother shakes a tin of mints like a maraca.
"There are challenges," Lowry said. "But this is what we've chosen."
Gussy runs around his Marianna home, chasing the family cat.
His "Mama," Erin Spangler, scoops him up and gives him a kiss.
Erin and her husband, Gary, are caring for the almost-2-year-old. Gussy's older sister, Tally, is being cared for by Erin's brother, Gary McDonald, and his wife, Tracy.
"They see each other just about every day," said Spangler of the siblings.
The Spanglers and McDonalds traveled to DuPage County, Ill., to retrieve the children - biologically their cousin's - in January 2016, after receiving a call from a social worker.
"We got their sizes and went and bought clothes and car seats," said Erin Spangler. "If you would have seen us packed up and ready to leave, we looked like we were moving."
Gussy, who was 2 months old, and Tally, who was almost 2 years old, adapted quickly to their new homes and siblings.
Tally, who was diagnosed with a seizure disorder weeks after moving to Pennsylvania, enjoys showing animals at the county fair.
"When they're old enough to completely understand, we have no need to hide anything," Spangler said.
Dawne Roberts of Coal Center and her husband, Dave, have exchanged motorcycles for bicycles.
"Jayden doesn't want to ride alone, so we all got bikes," said Roberts with a laugh.
Roberts has custody of her grandson, Jayden, 6, who has pretty much been with her since he was born. He was legally adopted in March.
"We're Nanny and Pappy, but he's ours," said Roberts.
Roberts said it can be a challenge to start over again raising a child - things like getting Jayden to sleep in his own bed or finding time to spend with her husband.
"I had my kids when I was young, so I grew up with them. And they had each other," said Roberts. "Jayden's an only child, so it can be hard on him. But he's doing so good. He's an awesome little boy."
Roberts said she's not sure how to react when people thank her for taking care of Jayden.
"My whole thing is, if Dave and I hadn't taken him, where would he be now? Even if I could go back and change everything, I wouldn't, because he's meant to be with us."
Terri Heck of Stockdale is grateful to be dealing with the tumultuous teen years with her 13-year-old niece, Kendra.
"I get the rolling of the eyes, all the fun stuff," Heck said. "But she's a happy kid. She's an amazing girl."
Kendra, Heck's niece, has been a part of the family since she was born. More like a sister to Heck's older daughters, Kendra hunts, goes four-wheeling and rides motorcycles with Heck's husband, Gary.
"There was never a conversation of, are we going to do this or what? We knew, from the day she was born, she would be with us," Heck said.
Heck said Kendra has endured a lot in her short life, but she perseveres.
"To think where she would be right now without us makes me ill. Everything we've been through, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I'm proud of what we've done. "
- Terri Heck
"To think where she would be right now without us makes me ill. Everything we've been through, I wouldn't trade it for the world," Heck said. "I'm proud of what we've done."
Melanie Wolfe of Washington likes to tell people that she had her oldest child at 25, and now she's raising little ones again at 50.
"We have more patience as grandparents," said Wolfe.
She and her husband, John, have raised their 3-year-old granddaughter since she was born, and started taking care of their 4-year-old grandson in March.
She said she has worked with them to overcome emotional issues and has witnessed rapid progress.
"She's been calling me Mom for about six months. Just hearing (her) say that and that she loves me, I know I protected her," Wolfe said. "And (he) wasn't affectionate at first, but he's starting to give hugs and kisses. I'm looking forward to letting him experience things he's never been able to do. That's what being a grandparent is all about."
Wolfe just earned a bachelor's degree in human services. While she set out to work with the elderly, she now wants to work with families.
"I have hope for them," she said. "I'm thankful I was able to step up and take care of my grandkids."
Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com