- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

THURMONT, Md. (AP) Hunched on the living room floor in front of a building-block set, 5-year-old Michael Simmons turned and waved at his grandmother. "Look, Grandma," he said, holding a newly built toy in hand.
Pat Owens smiled and nodded approvingly. With Michael's parents out of his life, the 59-year-old Mrs. Owens has joined the 2.4 million grandparents found by the 2000 Census to be primary caregivers to a grandchild.
It was the first time the once-a-decade count tracked such living arrangements.
The closest the census had come in the past to addressing this issue was to estimate the percentage of children under 18 living in a grandparent-headed home. That figure was 6.3 percent in 2000, compared with 5.5 percent in 1990, 3.6 percent in 1980 and 3.2 percent in 1970.
The data, however, did not cover how many of those grandparents were the caregivers for their grandchildren.
The 2000 census long form asked if a grandparent was responsible for "most of the basic needs" of a grandchild in the home. "Yes" was the answer from 42 percent of the nearly 5.8 million grandparents living with a grandchild.
For Mrs. Owens and many other grandparents, returning to the "parent" role is not what they had planned for this stage of life, although she says being able to watch Michael grow up in her own home and not a foster home is worth it.
"I don't want to make it sound like it's easy, because there are some tough, tense times. But I'm very proud of the fact that all the grandchildren still play together and go to school together," said Mrs. Owens, who has other grandchildren in the area. "That is the most important thing."
She took custody of Michael two years ago and has not heard from his mother Mrs. Owens' daughter since.
Mrs. Owens said Michael's father has no contact with the boy but recently started to provide child support.
Grandparents often step in after a grandchild's parents abandon the child or end up in jail, said Amy Goyer of the Grandparents Information Center with AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans.
Others assume responsibility when a child's parents die or divorce leaving many grandmothers and grandfathers with unforeseen financial burdens.
The census statistics are derived from the long-form questionnaire, a survey distributed to about one in six households in 2000.

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