Austria: Church grans for hire service

 An Austrian project that provides surrogate grandparents for young families has appealed for more pensioners to join this Christmas after an advertising campaign brought in a huge demand. The service, which was set up by the Catholic church in 1975, introduces elderly people to young families with children for a small fee. It now operates in several towns and cities around the country. The stand-in grandparents are not meant to do any household chores or babysit. Their role is to befriend families and become part of the family. "So many people are marrying later these days, often by the time children come along, the original grandparents have died. Or very often because people move around so much, families live very far from their parents," said Elizabeth Prantl, co-ordinator of the Vienna office which has more than 500 pensioners on their books. "This is sad because elderly people and children often have more in common with each other than parents and children. They have a great deal to offer each other. Older people and children have more time and patience. They often share the same sense of humour." Sixty-five year old Annette Schroeder, who joined the scheme four years ago, said: "My son is in America with his family so we don't meet very often. I love children and so this is a great pleasure for me."

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