The show must go on as they say, and so the launch of findings from a research project investigating violence towards grandparents took place this week with all the requisite fanfare – but online rather than as originally envisaged! Perhaps it is a metaphor for the situation experienced by the 27 grandparents interviewed for this study by Dr Amanda Holt and Dr Jenny Birchall, in that their life had taken a sudden and often dramatic change of course with the arrival of the grandchildren they were caring for.
This is the first qualitative research project in the UK to explore the experiences of grandparents who are subject to violence and/ or abusive behaviour from their grandchildren, with whom they are in a kinship care relationship; and took place between June 2018 and January 2020. The individuals had been recruited specifically because they had experienced abuse, and all described shocking and often daily experiences of violence and abuse directed towards them as well as to property, sometimes involving weapons and leading to extreme injuries. While there were a variety of “triggers” the respondents were unanimous in attributing the abuse to the trauma and loss the children had experienced (most often as a result of domestic abuse, mental health problems, substance use or child abuse / neglect). Grandparents play a vital role when they step-up, in keeping children out of the care system, and out of the youth justice system, but the difficulties implicit in such placements are poorly recognised, whether with regards to the relationship with the grandchildren – or indeed their own children. Unsurprisingly, given how little known and understood this aspect of family violence remains, all the grandparents reported problems accessing help and support from a range of services. Interestingly the police were often reported to have been the most responsive and compassionate. The report concludes with a series of recommendations for policy and practice, from a universal and early intervention stage, through very specific tailored support, including a change in mindset and proper funding.
This research project has shown how much broader we need to be thinking in terms of violence within the home. While we have become accustomed to thinking about domestic abuse / intimate partner violence and child abuse, with a developing understanding of elder abuse and even child / adolescent to parent violence, this aspect of abuse towards grandparents (and kinship carers) has been sorely neglected in study, policy and provision. The call for greater training, support, research – and importantly funding – outlines some very specific avenues for development. It is crucial that we offer support early on in these families’ journeys. To ignore them merely adds to the distress, trauma, injury and hardship further down the line, both for the children and for those who have made unexpected changes to their life plans to accommodate their needs.
For more information about the research study I can heartily recommend the project website, which has been created in lieu of a national launch. It’s easy to navigate and really accessible with clear sections explaining the research project itself, with information generally about children’s violence to grandparents, about Amanda, and signposting to help for those impacted. Finally, the website includes a podcast in which Amanda talks about the project and discusses the findings with Lucy Peake, CEO of Grandparents Plus, John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development with CoramBAAF, and Dunston Patterson, Youth Justice Effective Practice Adviser.
This is an important piece of work, broadening our knowledge about violence within families, and shining a light on this hitherto neglected area. Congratulations to Amanda and Jenny!