Photographer based in Ohio.
2015 - Magnum 30 Photographers under 30, 2014 - Getty Reportage Emerging Talent
Sonya Casto hula-hoops in her grandmother's front yard in Carbondale, OH in 2011.
Seven years ago, when I was a sophomore studying photojournalism at Ohio University, I became interested in a shift unfolding among American families. Nearly 3 million children in the U.S. are now being raised by grandparents or kinship caregivers due largely to parental drug use, abuse and neglect. About 200,000 of those children are in Ohio. I went looking for a family to learn their story. That’s how I met Sonya Casto. I've documented her and her family for the last seven years, and her transformation from a young child with PTSD from the abuse she endured to a 15 year-old starting high school in a new town. Her parents have been swept into the drug epidemic that has afflicted so much of the Midwest and Appalachia. Her grandparents are doing the best to raise her and her siblings while sacrificing their own life savings and golden years.
Lorrie Casto works on bills while Sonya plays with her little sister in Carbdonale, OH in 2011. Across Ohio, households headed by grandparents struggle financially. Nearly a third of them live in poverty, as opposed to about a fifth of “traditional” households headed up by parents. Lorrie and Lee have burned through their savings to raise their grandchildren. Sonya, then 9, was fiercely protective of her younger siblings since she clearly remembered the abuse she endured from their mother.
Lorrie and Lee enrolled their grandchildren in school and made sure they went to church. One Mother’s Day, the kids were among the youth at the Oak Grove Wesleyan Church who learned a song entitled “I Love Mommy.” The Castos changed the lyrics to “I Love Grandma.”
“We’ve had hard times,” says Lorrie. “But I don’t want to see them anywhere else. What else is a grandmother for? If a mom can’t take care of kids, then you back up and Grandma has to take care of them. They’re my kids now.”