Program awarded for supporting ‘Grandparents as Parents’

BRIGHTON -- Assuming the role of parent comes with difficulties and stresses, say grandparents who are the primary caregivers of their grandchildren.

Barbara Ledinsky said that when she received custody of her grandchildren more than seven years ago, the task of raising them was daunting.

“You are taking on a responsibility that you would hope you wouldn’t have to take on,” she said. “Having someone to reach out to is a lifesaver.”

Soon after she received custody, Ledinsky was directed to Grandparents As Parents, an organization dedicated to serving grandparents who are primary caregivers.

The organization, a program of Catholic Charities of the Merrimack Valley, serves 120 families, said Debbie Rambo, Catholic Charities’ vice president for programs.

Grandparents As Parents, founded in 1997, was recently presented with the American Cardinal’s Encouragement Award. The honor is given each year at the American Cardinals Dinner, a benefit for The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. This year’s banquet was held at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel on April 25.

The award came with a $10,000 grant for the non-profit that provides grandparents with a confidential help line, financial advice, information on available services and support groups. It also hosts social activities and family outings such as an annual Christmas party and summer trips to a farm or water park.

Rambo accepted the award and said that currently there are 32,000 Massachusetts grandparents raising their grandchildren, and one in 10 grandparents nationally are the primary caregivers of their children’s children.

“Grandparenting, I think, comes with the privilege of getting to enjoy your grandchildren without the worry of meeting their daily needs,” Rambo later told The Pilot. “Grandparents are at a time in their lives where their financial resources might be limited, their health might be limited. Parenting is a rigorous responsibility.”

Ledinsky said Grandparents As Parents provides a “safety net” against isolation. She went on to describe the shame and bewilderment many grandparents feel when they take custody of their grandchildren. In support groups, they realize they are not going through those feelings alone, she said.

The program’s Web site says that multiple issues contribute to grandparents becoming second-time parents, including addictions, teen pregnancy, incarceration, death and abandonment.

Dottie Duval, the program’s manager, said the five support groups run by the program meet monthly and allow the grandparents to be resources to each other. The one-of-a-kind program is vital for the families it serves, she said.

“There’s certainly a need for it, but unfortunately there’s not a lot of funding for it,” she said. “It runs on a shoestring.”

Duval added that the need for the program increases annually because the number of grandparents supporting their grandchildren rises dramatically.

Duval and Rambo also noted that Grandparents As Parents is currently in transition because the director of seven years, Rachelle Comptois, died on Jan. 30.

“She just worked tirelessly for this program,” Rambo said. “She did the work of three people.”

Maria Barrios, a grandmother who has had custody of her granddaughter for two years, said that taking on that responsibility was very stressful. The support of Grandparents As Parents is reassuring for her because she knows that someone is always ready to help her, she said.

“It has helped me to cope,” she said. “I am so glad that program is there for us.”