Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

There are nearly three million grandparents in the United States who have legal custody of their grandchildren. A sizable share of them (18 percent) live below the poverty line. One of their many vexations is where to live. While there is subsidized housing for the elderly, children are usually not allowed. Overnight, a grandmother might have to take in five kids, in which case she would be forced to move.

I learned about this problem in 2009, when I did a story with two of my favorite 60 Minutes producers, Shari Finkelstein and Jennie Held, about a free after-school program in Harlem called Gospel for Teens. We started the shoot by going to auditions for the year’s 46 slots. The majority of the kids who tried out were African-Americans, living in rough neighborhoods.

Grandparents become guardians for a variety of reasons, none of them pretty.

At Gospel for Teens, the kids have to shout out their names and where they live. Rhonda Rodriguez was so withdrawn she could barely whisper, and yet, because she sang This Little Light of Mine with riveting plaintiveness, she made the cut. We decided to focus on her in our story.

Interviewing her hurt. At 14, she exhaled dejection. In her forsaken little voice, she told us that she lived in the South Bronx in a very special building. When I asked why it was special, she said, “It’s just for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.”

“Are you being raised by your grandparents?” I asked.

“I’m being raised by my great-grandmother.” Her great-grandmother. That meant neither her mother nor her father, nor any of her grandparents, had stepped in.