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Program Pairs “Grannies” With Children Growing Up in Institutions

A New York adoption and family services nonprofit plans to launch its first domestic “Granny Program” in the United States. Credit: Crissy Pauley/
A New York adoption and family services nonprofit plans to launch its first domestic “Granny Program” in the United States. Credit: Crissy Pauley/
October 9, 2015

NEW YORK - Spence-Chapin, a New York City-based nonprofit, has operated its international "Granny Program," pairing volunteer, retired women with children in orphanages since 1998. The adoption and family-services agency describes it as an early intervention program intended to provide consistent care for children in institutions.

Until now, the program has only existed in other countries, but the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers, serving some of the state's most medically complex children, will be the first U.S. site to operate the "Granny Program."

Linda Alexandre, Spence-Chapin's associate director of special-needs adoption, said organizers hope the program can provide a sense of normalcy to the hospital's young patients.

"It's like this consistent presence seems to be something that over time has been studied, and it's been shown that kids benefit in a million ways - trusting, bonding, being able to self-soothe," she said. "So those are the kind of benefits we're hoping will come out of this."

Spence-Chapin said the "Granny Program" has served hundreds of children in seven countries and four continents for nearly 20 years. The organization hopes to expand the program to even more U.S. sites in the near future.

According to Spence-Chapin staff, the "Granny Program" has been proven to improve the development and attachment of children raised in institutions, who often are deprived of bonding with a consistent caretaker. Alexandre said the organization is recruiting for "grannies" - and "grandpas" as well - who will undergo an extensive vetting process.

"There's an application process," she said. "They will have to go through the vetting process for Elizabeth Seton. There's going to be background checks, fingerprinting, child-abuse clearances. So, all kinds of vetting."

Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center officials say most of its patients cannot attend programs or even play with toys and read books without assistance. As part of the program, each "granny" will be paired with a child at the Pediatric Center, providing needs such as companionship and socialization as well as participating in one-on-one activities such as reading bedtime stories.

Nia Hamm/Dallas Heltzell, Public News Service - NY