Here in New York City, many grandparents have accepted the trying — and rewarding — task of raising their grandchildren.
The job is incredibly difficult, especially when seniors must find ways to control troubled teenagers struggling with the physical, emotional or mental loss of their parents.
Dozens of grandparents, mostly women, gathered at Brooklyn’s Long Island University to discuss the difficulties of caring for grandchildren — and to ask for guidance and support.
“There’s several issues grandparents face [such as] truancy,” said Flatbush resident Lakisha Adams.
When a child refuses to attend school, “the parent gets an education neglect case,” she added. “They can’t control the kids. People don’t know what to do.”
“I have two grandkids. The challenge is they don’t listen at all. It’s a big, big problem,” said Odessa Centeno, a resident of Co-op City in the Bronx. “The girl stays out late, comes home at 1 or 2 o’clock. She’s 16. It scares me.”
“This is an issue for many people,” said state Senator Velmanette Montgomery, representing Brooklyn’s 18th Senate District.
Joyce Wilson believes tough love is the only way to get through to teens who are acting out.
“You can’t let them do what they want to do,” the Bronx resident said.
The problem, she said, is that the kids may have learned bad habits while living with their parents.
“A lot of grandparents get their kids later in life,” she said. “They already know what they want to do.”
“A lot of grandparents deal with kids that have emotional or behavioral or mental health challenges and need resources,” acknowledged Akmeer Kahien of the state Office of Children and Family Services.
Madge Bellot’s grandson displayed behavioral problems until she enrolled him in her local police precinct’s Explorers program.
“They give them discipline and they teach them respect,” the Bronx resident said. “Grandparents need to go to the precinct and find out about this program.”
Even if teens are a handful at home or at school, grandparents must always be there to lend support and show they care, said Gloria Woods.
“I got my grandson when he was four months old. They even lost him when he was in the system but we found him,” she explained. “Now he’s 15 and a 10th grader at Sheepshead Bay High School and he’s not going anywhere but college.”
“I want to encourage people to never give up on your child,” she said.
“When you talk about putting your children out, it’s very likely they’re going to end up in the juvenile system,” Montgomery said. “It’s almost impossible to correct them, to turn them around, if they go into the system.”
Doris Williams of Harlem wanted other grandparents to know that sometimes they can have a happy ending.
“My granddaughter loves her children but she had a sickness. I learned that drugs is a disease,” she said. “I didn’t give up on my granddaughter and now she’s got her children back. This was a success story. Maybe that will give all of you hope and inspiration.”
Montgomery noted that teens are acting out for good reason.
“They have a parent who is incarcerated, a parent who is on drugs. They get to school and they’re angry and out of control. Who is there to comfort them? The police,” she said. “Young people — they’ve lost their parents, they’ve lost their homes, they’re very upset. There is a reason why they’re not behaving.”
Montgomery has long called for the creation of additional school-based health centers to provide counseling for students.
In such instances, parents “can go and say, ‘I’m having problems with my grandchildren and I don’t know what to do. Can you help us?’”
“Another problem grandparents face is housing. They never anticipated raising grandchildren,” said Jamaica, Queens, resident Mary W. Covington. “One grandparent had eight grandchildren in a two-bedroom apartment with bunk beds in the living room.”
Caring for grandchildren also poses financial challenges for grandparents. Many New Yorkers are eligible for assistance but don’t even know it.
“Less than 10 percent of the children who are eligible for this benefit are not getting it,” said Beth Finkel of AARP New York. “That means to you and your families, less money coming in to pay rent, to pay for food and to pay for clothing.”
She’s referring to the state Kincare Coalition’s Non-Parent Caregiver Grant, also called the TANF or Child-Only Grant. Eligibility is based on the income of the child — not the guardian. Legal custody or guardianship is not required. To apply, call 1-877-Kin-Info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.nysnavigator.org.
Montgomery said it’s important to provide assistance — monetary and emotional — to grandparents.
“We have almost a generation who are being cared for by someone else in their family for various reasons,” Montgomery said. “We thank those people who have taken on the challenge of raising the next generation. I know you had difficulties raising the first generation and now you’re stuck raising the second generation. We have to make that a smoother, more successful transition from being grandparent to parent, from being great aunt to parent.”