Violence against Grandparents: Finding out more 

I am very pleased to post this information and request from Dr Amanda Holt, who has been instrumental in bringing about wider knowledge and understanding of child (and adolescent) to parent violence. She is now about to begin some research into violence and abuse towards grandparents, from their grandchildren, and is interested to hear from practitioners, and ultimately grandparents, with awareness and experience of this.  

As Helen impressively documents, there is a useful research literature developing on adolescent-to-parent violence/abuse, and this is giving us some insights into who, where, how and perhaps why we are seeing this problem across a range of families. However, there is very little research into violence against grandparents, yet I am hearing from practitioners that many grandparents attend CPV support programmes because they are experiencing violence from their grandchild. Many of these grandparents are involved in kinship care arrangements with their grandchild(ren), whether arranged formally (e.g. through a Special Guardianship Order, for example) or informally. A recent survey of 101 kinship carers in Australia found that nearly half (46%) of carers (the majority of whom were grandparents) reported violent behaviour from the child they were caring for and which, in 89% of cases, was directed towards them. As with CPV, verbal abuse, psychological abuse and physical aggression were all reported and the impacts mirrored those commonly experienced by parents who experience violence from their children: stress, mental health problems, physical health problems, additional family conflicts and social isolation.

However, while there are of course many parallels with CPV, there are other important issues which require consideration. For example, the kinship care relationship may have been unexpected, and grandparents may have complicated feelings about their own caring role. Relationships with the grandchild’s parents may be strained, and the same Australian study cited above found that many of the carers were also coping with violence towards them from the child’s parent(s). The kinship care context often means further structural challenges: we know from research that kinship care households are more likely to experience poverty, and that the child is twice as likely to be experiencing a long-term health problem or disability. The disruptive family context also needs to be taken into account: the most common reasons for the placement are parental mental health problems and/or substance misuse, parental incarceration, child protection concerns (including domestic violence) and parental illness or death. Given this context, supporting the grandparent must also mean supporting the child (and indeed the whole family), both of whom may require support in processing some of these very difficult, and potentially traumatising, sets of circumstances.

Practitioners who are running very effective support groups for CPV have told me that they are concerned that they may not always be responding to grandparents in the best way. What support needs do grandparents have, in addition to the support needs of parents who attend the CPV sessions? How do grandparents feel about coming to the groups? Do they feel alienated from the other parents, given their own special circumstances? And how do grandchildren feel about attending? There may be additional work to do in processing identity roles (“Am I his Mother or his Grandmother?”) and in working through their own complicated feelings towards the child’s parent(s). Perhaps there are ‘generational norms’ that shape how grandparents perceive ‘parenting advice’ that might exacerbate feelings of alienation.

I want to find out more about this issue. This is not only to develop the scholarship in this much marginalised form of family violence, but also to help practitioners to develop best practice for working with this group. I have been funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust to interview grandparents who are (or who have been in the past) experiencing abusive and/or violent  behaviour from their grandchildren. The research project has been approved by the University Ethics Panel and is being overseen by an expert advisory board. I would really like to hear from practitioners who work with any grandparents (even if they just work with one) and who may be willing to share information about this project with the grandparent. I have produced some information flyers that can be distributed to potential grandparent participants that tells them more about the project. Interviews would be face-to-face or over the phone, and at a time to suit the grandparent, and we offer grandparents a £20 shop voucher as a thankyou for their time. Please contact me for any further information, or if you would like to discuss the project.

Contact Amanda by email at her University of Roehampton address.


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