What happens to children when their parents are not fit to raise them? More than 6 million kids in the U.S. are raised by their grandmothers, often without legal guardianship that would help them receive assistance and protection under the law. The ABC News prime-time special “Family Lost, Family Found,” which won this year’s network UNITY Award, took viewers deep into the lives of a group of matriarchs who are managing to raise their grandchildren with little help from anyone.
ABC News producer Anna Sims-Phillips was introduced to a support group of such grandmothers in Newark, N.J., after she agreed to care for her own grandchild. Her only son, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, had a child out of wedlock in 1998 with a 17-year-old girl she describes as “unstable.” Edwina Haig, who was raising 10 of her own grandchildren, introduced her to the group after she convinced Ms. Sims-Phillips she needed to be around other women in her same predicament.
After attending meetings for more than a year she was prodded into action, helping to get a “kinship care bill” passed in New Jersey, now one of only six states that recognize grandmothers as legal guardians. This helped win the trust of her groupmates, who agreed to be the subject of a documentary special Ms. Sims-Phillips spent the subsequent four years shooting and editing.
“Most are dirt-poor, living on a fixed income, but they are doing the best they can to raise these children and they gave me unprecedented access into their lives,” said the producer, who has more than 30 years of experience producing news.
After the show aired May 26, 2005, ABC was flooded with e-mails, many from other grandmothers pleading to have their own stories told. The response was so strong that ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney agreed to let Ms. Sims-Phillips do a follow-up special on a group in Delaware that is trying to get a similar bill passed in that state. It is scheduled to run during November sweeps.-WAYNE KARRFALT