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Aging Guardians Seek Help from Social Services

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DURHAM — Too many grandparents are being forced to be the only parents their grandchildren know. The unexpected second round of parenting can quickly drain their golden years, bank accounts, and strength.

Imagine one day a relative drops her two kids off with you, then disappears for 10 years running. That exact scenario happened to an elderly woman in Durham. Her story starts with the disappearance of a 15-year-old boy.

The teen, Ron Bittle, was last seen by his guardian on April 1st. That guardian, Ron's great aunt, Marian Gordon is worried about what has happened to the missing boy. At 65 and in failing health, Marian is also worried about how she'll continue to care for Ron and his 11-year-old sister, Rudy. The kids were unexpectedly left behind by their mother 10 years ago.

"I have did all I could do for these kids," a teary Marian explains. "The mama won't do nothing, won't even give them a piece of candy on Christmas Day, not even a ball of candy, not even a sucker."

Marian's frustration is shared my a number of grandparents and aging guardians. The state says it doesn't keep statistics on how many children live with elderly care givers. Social services says the problem comes in right over the phone.

"More and more, we do have aging grandparents calling the agency and saying 'I can no longer care for my adolescent children' because of their acting out behavior, and I've had them X number of years, and I'm going to bring them up to you," says Gail Perry of Durham County Social Services.

Gordon says Ron was having a discipline problem before she reported him missing. She says state legislators need to address problems like hers.

"I think they need to do something about it," Gordon believes. "They need to pass some kind of law."

Durham County thinks the aging guardian problem is big enough to do something about it. They are considering assigning one dedicated social services officer specifically to the problems of elderly care givers.

Social services encourages the public to seek their help if they are in a similar situation. There's no word yet when one social services officer will be assigned to handle elderly care issues, but it may not be too long as the phone rings constantly with similar scenarios day in and day out.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
Edward Wilson, Photographer
Kerrie Hudzinski, Web Editor

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