Grandparents who become parents.. again

December 16, 2008 8:45:13 PM PST
Carole Combs took in her first grandchild, Danielle, 22 years ago. Then, she took in her great-grandchild, Danielle's son, Elijah.Women and men, like Combs, become sole caregivers for their grandchildren because of drugs, incarceration, abandonment, and violence. Or in Carole Combs' case the second time: Tragedy.

"The others came as a result of my daughter being in a house fire with four of her children. They perished in that fire," Combs said.

Andrew is an excellent student, Anthony recently graduated from a vocational school.

50,000 children in Philadelphia are being raised by their grandparents. The majority of grandparents in Pennsylvania who are raising grandchildren are low-income and, many times, in poor health. Combs is confined to a wheelchair after suffering a stroke and she's lost most of her sight.

But unlike foster parents, grandparents receive no assistance at all.

Philadelphia Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown is working on legislation that would provide funds for relatives, determined to keep these children from falling into the social service system.

"They simply step up and wrap their arms around their children and do what's required to be parents all over again," Reynolds-Brown said.

Thelma Adams is raising 7 of her grandchildren after her daughter joined the Army and the kids' fathers offered no help. Her husband, however, has been supportive.

But it's become especially difficult since the Adams' home in Olney was badly damaged in her neighbor's house fire in July.

The family was first forced to move to the Red Cross Shelter in West Philadelphia, then to a house in Frankford.

She's far from alone in her struggle.

Anthony Hudson didn't think twice before deciding he would care for his two grandsons after their father shot and killed their mother, then himself:

"I never in my wildest dreams thought I would bury my daughter," Husdon said.

The murder-suicide changed their lives dramatically: Derion still cries many nights, while Derick works out his anger on the drums, all while Anthony struggles to become a father and mother to both.

Anthony has depended on people like Eilene Brown, who runs the grass roots organization "Grand As Parents." It provides food, clothing and advice. Others relate to her because she shares their plight.

"I have two children who lost their father, who was murdered here on the streets of Philadelphia," Brown said. "The problem is so severe in this country. It's insidious!"

Elaine Brown does what she can, but desperately needs more help. State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams has sponsored legislation; Senate Bill 167 to secure financial aid for these families.

He and Councilwoman Reynolds-Brown are optimistic that, with a new president who was raised by his grandparents, they'll be able to garner the votes needed to get this bill to the governor's desk.

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