Grandma gives up home to take in abandoned grandchildren

Gabriela Lagos feeds her grandchildren, Giovanni, 1, Justin 2, Jasmine, 7, Christian 5 in her trailer in West Palm Beach. Lagos took custody of the children because their parent's drug addiction.

Gabriela Lagos’ grandchildren don’t have mattresses. They don’t have a bathtub. They don’t have expectations of shiny presents as the holidays approach.

But they have each other, and if you ask Lagos, she’d tell you that’s enough.

“I gave up everything,” Lagos says, sitting in her suburban West Palm Beach yard, behind the orange, 700-square-foot trailer home the children endearingly call “the carrot.” “To see them happy and playing … I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Lagos, 54, didn’t hesitate to take her son’s four children into her care one year ago, after she learned her son was struggling with an opioid addiction and on the cusp of a short, drug-related jail sentence, she says.

She and her husband gave up her comfortable condo in a 55-plus community in Palm Springs. Lagos gave up her job as a nurse in Palm Beach to care for the children full-time.

Before then, the kids were separated, some living in the foster care system, others in the homes of distant family members who aimed to find care for the children elsewhere.

At one point, when their parents lost their home, the four children slept in a car.

Gabriela Lagos

Gabriela bathes her 1-year old grandson, Giovanni, in a plastic bucket of the trailer where she lives.

Lagos first took in the oldest, Jasmine, 7, and youngest, Giovanni, 13 months old. It took months of back-and-forth with the Department of Children and Families — and a promise to keep the children from unsupervised visits with their parents — to get custody of 2-year-old Justin and 5-year-old Christian, who has autism and is nonverbal.

“The hardest part was when they were separated,” Lagos says. “They need each other.”

One month after the children were reunited, however, Lagos’ husband, Juan, died of a heart attack. Lagos is the only caretaker for the children. She uses saved money for food and necessities, and gets $250 per week in government assistance, she says.

She has also received money toward medical expenses for Christian, who requires intense care, she says.

The family of five sleeps in the single room of the trailer. The three oldest children share a bunk bed frame that’s lined with foam. Christian sleeps in a playpen. Lagos, a cervical cancer survivor who suffers from severe asthma, sleeps on a couch riddled with broken springs, just feet from the children.

And yet each night, Lagos says she and Jasmine pray for less-fortunate families.

“We try to be happy no matter what, right?” says Lagos, turning to Jasmine, who she calls Jazzy. “Other people are in worse situations.”

Outside the home is an orange bucket, where Lagos bathes the children every evening before bed. She has yet to secure city water, and only just installed an air conditioner a few months ago.

Still, through the hardship, Lagos’ eyes light up as she watches the children play out back taking turns on a sole rope swing that’s tied to a tree.

“I just want them to have a normal life,” Lagos said. “I tell Jazzy, ‘You’ll never be homeless again.’”


Gabriela Lagos is a widowed grandmother raising her son’s four children, one of whom is autistic. She gave up her career as a home nurse and a comfortable condo in a 55-plus community to raise the children. The family shares a small trailer and sleeps in one room. They could use two twin beds and mattresses for the children, who sleep on a foam-lined bed frame. They would appreciate a washer/dryer set, a year’s worth of diapers for the youngest child, tires for the SUV Lagos uses to transport the children to and from school and funds for one year’s worth of electricity. If possible, Lagos would like Christmas presents for her grandchildren and an outdoor play set.

Photography by Greg Lovett / Staff

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