To escape an overcrowded household when she was a little girl, Morgan Hazelton quickly accepted her grandparent’s offer to live in their home a few miles away from her crowded household in Prince George’s County.
Morgan Hazelton, 22, is a product of a grand families home. She grew up in Prince George’s County. When she was 9 years old, she moved in with both her grandmother and grandfather.
“When they asked me to come live with them; for me, it was a no-brainer,” said Hazelton said of the decision to move in with Helena and Bill Heyward. “The living conditions in my grandparent’s home were better than the living conditions I was in.”
Hazelton’s parents were not victims of drug abuse, or mental illness. It was just a matter of too many people living in a small space, she said.
Hazelton’s experience was not one of hardship or struggle. Luckily her grandparents did not struggle financially when they took her in. Her grandmother was a pharmacist and until this day she still works in a hospital and her grandfather was a government employee.
“Living with my grandparents taught me a strong work ethic and I was raised with a lot of old school values that a lot of kids nowadays lack,” said Hazelton.
Her story reflects the changing demographics of a nation of aging baby-boomers and children affected by the struggles of their parents. Whether there is turmoil from drug abuse, incarceration or simply strained parenting skills, grandparents provide a refuge, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data and figures compiled by non-governmental groups.
In the United States, 7.8 million children are living in homes where the grandparents or close relatives are the householders, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
In Maryland, 151,970 children under 18 years old reside in homes where the grandparents or relatives are the householders, according to census data. Of that number, 112,017 are children whose grandparents are their primary caregivers. This accounts for 8.3 percent of the children in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of the grandparents that are the primary providers for their grandchildren in Maryland, 42 percent are white, 48 percent are African American, 3 percent are Asian, and 5 percent are Hispanic.
“The primary reason for grand-families is the increase of drug and alcohol abuse making parents incapable of providing for their child,” said Pat Owens, founder and CEO of Maryland-based GrandFamilies of America.
The organization was started 15 years ago and the national office is located in Thurmont, Md. Owens felt the need for such an organization when she found it necessary to raise her grandson at one period of time.
GrandFamilies of America has a mission to help grandparents raising their grandchildren to develop and execute the most suitable plan for the child as an alternative to foster care.
“Keeping children in the family is the better way to go,” said Owens.
Duane St. Clair, of the Baltimore branch of GrandFamilies of America, is among the groups providing support and advice to grandparents who are raising young children. “We try to provide help and support to grandparents because a lot of times they are not aware of the resources available in the community,” said St. Clair.
In the Baltimore area, the primary reason for the increase of grand-families is the same nationwide.
“Usually parents suffer from substance abuse or have mental health issues,” said St. Clair.
For John Lippman, 70, and his wife, Geraldine, 69, both wheelchair-bound, family helping family is their tradition. While they don’t provide complete care for their 7-year-old grandson, Alexander, the boy and his mother, Dia Lippman, both live with her parents. They comprise one of Baltimore’s 8,026 households in which, census data say, grandparents are the primary householders.
They care for Alexander before and after school and provide whatever other assistance is needed.
“We come from a large family and we are very big on family. When someone needs to be taken care of, we take care of our own,” said Geraldine Lippman.
“Alexander is a bright young child and he brings joy to my husband who is ill,” she continued, boasting about his artistic prowess and his participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs.
GrandFamilies of America can be reached at http://www.grandfamiliesofamerica.com/. The phone number is 301-358-3911 in Thurmond, Md.