Many Grandparents Take Care of Kids
RACHEL LA CORTE
Jan. 14, 1998
MIAMI (AP) _ Eartha Walker has replaced four washing machines in the past 10 years.
The life expectancy of her washers is drastically reduced because the 63-year-old single grandmother is raising 14 grandchildren and doing endless loads of laundry.
She, like many other grandparents in inner cities, has taken on the role of primary caregiver.
Two of Mrs. Walker's eight children were murdered in Overtown, an inner-city neighborhood in Miami. One daughter lives with her, and some of the others neglected their children, which is why she now cares for them.
``I love my grandkids,'' Mrs. Walker said. ``I didn't want them to go into foster homes. But I'll be glad when they're all grown up.''
She joined about 200 grandmothers last November at a conference in Miami to swap stories and learn about the resources available to help them cope with raising their children's children.
Many of them have taken responsibility for their grandchildren because their children are either on drugs, in jail or dead. At the conference, called Grandparents Rising Grandchildren, they heard about legal, social and financial issues that grandparents face while raising their grandchildren.
Sandy Townsend, an associate state representative for the American Association of Retired Persons, said the goal of the conference was to identify issues that the legislature can address when it convenes in March.
``Concerns and issues that confront grandparents are pretty universal, regardless of their financial situation,'' she said. ``They do this out of love. This is their family.''
In last year's legislative session, a bill was introduced that would, among other things, provide financial assistance to relative caretakers. It did not pass.
Barbara Sullivan, 65, adopted her two great-grandsons. One of them was born with drugs in his system. Sullivan, who owes Jackson Memorial Hospital $5,000 for medical treatment of her great-grandsons, is upset that she's not receiving help from the government.
``I want action,'' she said. ``It's not fair. I'm not asking for anything for myself. Why can't they give me Medicaid for these kids?''
More than 4 million children currently live permanently with their grandparents _ about 30,000 of them are in South Florida, according to the AARP. Many of these grandparents live on fixed incomes and receive little or no help from state agencies in raising their grandchildren.
Renee Woodworth, director of AARP's Grandparent Information Center in Washington, said the problems encountered by caregiver grandparents crosses societal lines. Not only inner-city grandparents end up raising their grandchildren or encounter problems.
``It can happen anywhere,'' she said. ``Rural America, Midwest America, everywhere.''
Support groups for grandparents can be found in most cities across the country, Woodworth said. The Miami conference was sponsored by Grandparents As Second Parents, a group based in Oakland, Calif.
A coalition to help grandparents began in Dade County and comprises Dade public schools, the City of Miami Community Policing Division, the AARP, the Advocates PTA and the Alliance on Aging
Lillie Mae Davis, 55, has raised five grandchildren because of her daughter's drug problem. She said the best part of the conference was the support of the other grandmothers.
``Hearing other grandmothers' problems makes you feel you're not by yourself,'' she said.
End advance for Thursday, Jan. 15