Grandparents Raising Young Kids Get Support from LES Program
LOWER EAST SIDE — When Shawn Pegues' youngest child hit 14 years old, the single mother of six thought an empty nest was finally in sight.
"I thought I was home free," said Pegues, who lives in the Lower East Side's Smith Houses. "But then I got the call."
On the other end of the phone was one of her daughters, who was addicted to PCP and marijuana and had just given birth to her second child. Authorities had detected PCP in the newborn's system, Pegues' daughter said.
"She said, '[Child Protective Services] are going to take them,"' Pegues said. Rather than allow a stranger to raise her own grandchildren, she took them in.
Now, several years later, Pegues has adopted two of her daughter's four children and is caring for the other two as well. All are under 7 years old, and the youngest is just 6 weeks old.
To support Pegues and dozens of other grandparents raising young children in Smith Houses, the complex's tenants association recently launched a grandparents training program. The program offers both practical classes and individual case management to usher grandparents through the challenges they may not have faced on the first round of childrearing.
In January 2011, of the almost 2,000 families living at Smith Houses, 116 households included both grandparents and children, according to NYCHA officials. While some of those households also included the children's parents, many of the grandparents were raising kids on their own, residents said.
"One of the things this program will ensure is that the cycle does not repeat itself, by providing the support and education to break the cycle," said Yudy Cid, 38, a family educator who developed and now runs the program with her husband Alfredo.
Aixa Torres, the tenant association president at Smith Houses, has been working for more than two years to secure $40,000 in NYCHA funding for the program and to develop the classes with Cid.
"I have grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, but their grandchildren are already having kids," Torres said.
The circumstances that land a grandparent back in either a full-time or part-time parenting role vary from their children landing in prison to their working long hours to provide for the family, according to Torres.
"Some of them [parents] got caught up in drugs," Torres said. "Some of them, they have just gotten sick."
The program features eight classes with lots of conversations between the approximately 20 participants. Topics include conflict resolution, communication and listening, and the grandparents also get advice on how to become their grandchildren's legal caregiver.
Cid also teaches grandparents how to spot early signs of drug use in the youngsters.
"This could mean a change in friends — he used to play a sport and now he wants to hang with this group of friends," Cid said. "There are physical signs such as a sudden increase or decrease in appetite, they sleep a lot, lose interest in school."
The program also offers emotional support for grandparents like Pegues, who may be overwhelmed by the prospect of another round of parenting at an older age.
“The second time around — not having the energy like I did before,” said Pegues, who expects that she will adopt all of her daughter's children. “Back then I was taking them to school, volunteering, all solo.”
Rosa Casablanca, 70, another Smith Houses resident, found herself raising three young grandchildren more than a decade ago after her son became addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs.
"I sacrificed so much — love, care. I taught them the right values," she said in Spanish through a translator.
Casablanca, who is from Puerto Rico, said she had no support in raising what she described as a second family, after she had already reared five of her own children on her own. Her youngest grandchild is now 22 years old, and she is now attending the grandparents training program to offer encouragement to others who are just beginning the process.
"It was hard, hard work," she said. "I didn’t have a life."