[Paleopsych] NYT: A Place for Grandparents Who Are Parents Again

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A Place for Grandparents Who Are Parents Again


    Eleven years ago, Annie Barnes, 62, found herself raising her two
    grandchildren after their father was murdered and their mother
    disappeared. Both children had been born premature and with serious
    health problems - the younger, a girl, weighed two and a half pounds;
    the other, a boy, was born with syphilis and addicted to heroin and

    But the little boy, Alonzo Poinsett, now 12, and his sister, Shakela,
    10, are doing well today, and they will soon join their grandmother in
    an ambitious new housing experiment - a 51-unit apartment building in
    the South Bronx that is the first public development in the United
    States designed and built exclusively for grandparents raising

    The six-story project, called the GrandParentFamily Apartments, will
    open within the next few weeks; it already has a waiting list of more
    than 100 families. The development, on Prospect Avenue, will have
    three full-time social workers, support groups, parenting classes and,
    for the children, tutoring, a full-time youth coordinator and
    organized activities in the afternoons and evenings.

    The generational skip in the population means that the units will have
    some unusual features: emergency pull cords in the bedrooms and
    bathrooms, shower thermostats to keep the water from getting too hot,
    a community center for the older residents and their friends and a
    youth lounge.

    It is an attempt to better serve a growing population that is often
    thrown together by bad luck and usually lacks a strong support system.
    The $12.8 million project was financed by Presbyterian Senior
    Services, the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing
    and the city's Housing Authority.

    "This is an important group of people that often gets ignored," said
    David Taylor, executive director of Presbyterian Senior Services, "and
    what I hope is that this becomes a demonstration project, a place that
    encourages other places to do the same thing."

    While it is not uncommon for grandparents to raise grandchildren,
    advocates for the elderly who study the issue say the number of
    households headed by grandparents is growing.

    A 1991 study by the city estimated that there were 14,000
    grandparent-headed homes in New York City. By 2000 there were 84,000
    such families in the city, according to the United States Census. The
    national trend is difficult to track because the Census Bureau only
    began recording information about households headed by grandparents in
    the 2000 census; it identified 2.4 million families with 4.4 million
    children in their households.

    Because these families are often impoverished, the GrandParentFamily
    Apartments, in the poorest Congressional district in the country, are
    reserved for families with a median income of about $25,100; a typical
    monthly rent is about $300. Nearly all the adults moving into the
    building are grandmothers.

    The children moving in with them have often lost their parents to
    illness, murder, prison, drug abuse or mental illness. Some children
    never knew their parents or scarcely remember them because they have
    been gone so long. The grandparents must have legal custody of their
    grandchildren to be eligible for an apartment.

    The process of gaining custody can be a long and trying process in
    Family Court. Typically, judges take custody from parents only when
    the parent has a history of abusing or neglecting a child, abusing
    drugs or is in jail so often that the child goes uncared for.

    For the grandparents, raising children again can be as traumatic as it
    is for the children to be without their parents.

    Some wonder where they went wrong with their own children. Many are
    depressed and struggling financially because they did not expect to
    have to raise a second generation. And all have found that the dreams
    they had for old age had to be abandoned.

    But a home at the GrandParentFamily Apartments at least helps.

    "I've always had the feeling I was alone in the world, and for once
    there's some help," said Sarah Saddler, 73, who is taking care of
    three of her youngest daughter's four children, Ashlee, 17; Courtney,
    15; and Kerry, 12, who is autistic. Ms. Saddler had three of her own
    children, and raised her eldest daughter's three children after she
    died from complications of diabetes in 1990 at age 37.

    Ms. Saddler would not say why her youngest daughter could no longer
    care for the children, but she alluded to mental illness.

    For more than a year, Ms. Saddler has lived with her daughter and her
    four children in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in the Bronx.
    Clothes are stored in plastic bags and in suitcases.

    "That," said Ms. Saddler raising an eyebrow as her granddaughters
    giggled, "is not good at all."

    The children say being raised by their father is not an option. Asked
    where he is, the girls say in unison, "Who cares?"

    LaVaida Thomas, 67, who will also live in the new project, is raising
    two of her daughter's five children, Aaron Cousins, 14, and Terrence,
    12. Ms. Thomas's daughter lost custody of the children after her
    youngest was born in 2003 with traces of cocaine in her bloodstream.
    She also wants to adopt the three other children, who are in foster

    "I've always said I would keep my kids together if I can," said Ms.
    Thomas, who has problems with her heart and has had three strokes.
    "The same goes for the grandkids. So I said, 'Let me live until I can
    see them half-way grown.' "

    She said living in her new home with people her own age would provide
    the support system she has lacked since her husband died five years

    "We'll have things in common," said Ms. Thomas, who has six children
    of her own. "You'll talk a little bit."

    Annie Barnes, who got custody of her two grandchildren after her son
    was fatally stabbed in 1994, has been looking forward to the move for

    "These are my son's children," said Ms. Barnes, who added that she had
    envisioned her retirement as being filled with travel. She did not
    know, she said, what happened to her son's girlfriend, the children's

    Her grandchildren know little about their parents and as Ms. Barnes
    speaks they listen intently, though Shakela covers her ears with her
    hands when the talk becomes too graphic.

    For years, Shakela, who is in fourth grade, has shared a room with
    Alonzo, who is a year ahead of her in school, but stands nearly a foot

    They recently visited their new three-bedroom apartment for the first
    time. The children dashed through the front door past their
    grandmother, running from room to room. They tested the bathroom
    faucets, the light switches and surveyed the views from the bedroom

    "I'm going to put my bed in there," Alonzo said excitedly. "I'm going
    to hook up my PlayStation 2. Put the clothes in the closet. Put the
    computer in my room." Shakela said she wanted to decorate her room
    with her dolls and cutouts of Sponge Bob Squarepants and Bratz.

    Ms. Barnes looked from one child to the other, and smiled. "They are
    mines now," she said. Shakela glanced at her grandmother and smiled
    back. "We're hers."

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