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NY Grandparents Rally in Washington for Family Care

May 6, 2008

Washington, DC - Raising grandkids isn't part of most New Yorkers' retirement plans, but it's the reality for a growing number of seniors. Some of them, grandkids in tow, are headed to the third annual "GrandRally" on Wednesday. Ed Shelleby, spokesman for the Children's Defense Fund, says one goal of the daylong demonstration is to pass federal legislation making it easier for elders to care for the kids in their extended families.

"The 'Kinship Caregiver Support Act' would bolster federal funding to states so that grandparents and other relative caregivers would have more services. It would also require child welfare agencies to let relatives know when parents lose custody of their children and are about to enter foster care, so that they can intervene beforehand."

Nationally, Shelleby says, six million kids are being raised in households headed by grandparents and even great-grandparents, which represents a one-third increase over the past decade. In New York State, more than 400,000 kids are under the care of grandparents or other relatives. Brigitte Castellano, with the National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights, says New York has led the way, in terms of extended family care.

"We've been lucky in New York State because the legislators have been very supportive. We also have a 'navigator program' that's just recently started, not even a year ago. So, we've made tremendous progress in New York since we've started back in 2003."

The "navigator program," she explains, provides grandparents with one-stop assistance for counseling, support groups, and financial aid.

Maria Lemons with the Grandparents Committee is a widow who successfully raised her grandchildren, and is now caring for her great-grandchildren. She and her great-grandson headed to Washington, on his first train ride, to be part of the event.

"We are loving, caring people. And a lot of times, the establishment or the courts feel that we're intruding. That's not the case. We see, sometimes, where change or help is needed, and that's why we step in. To protect, not to harm. To love, and to share."

Even celebrities supporting the GrandRally span the generations, including Kellie Pickler of "American Idol," who was raised by her grandparents, and grandparents' activist and legendary vocalist Patti Page.

Robert Knight/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - NY