Grandfamilies and Grandchild Adverse Childhood Experiences: An Examination of Service Needs, Utilization, and Best Practices

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Virginia Tech


Grandfamilies, or families in which grandparents are raising their grandchildren, often form due to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) experienced by the grandchildren. ACEs have been linked to multiple negative short- and long-term behavioral and emotional consequences for children. Yet, having an ACE history does not guarantee negative outcomes, as protective factors such as positive relationships with a safe and caring adult, healthy family functioning, and utilization of formal services can mitigate the negative effects of ACEs. Researchers have regularly called on families to seek timely intervention and services for ACEs; however, many grandparents raising grandchildren report negative interactions with service providers as well as service delivery. Limited research has explored the extent to which grandfamilies with ACEs may have experienced similar interactions while seeking and using formal services. Guided by Andersen's (1995) Behavioral Model of Health Service Use, this qualitative study sought to explore (1) the service needs of grandchildren with an ACE history who are being raised by their grandparents; (2) the service needs of grandparents raising grandchildren with an ACE history; (3) the process of seeking services when grandparents raising a grandchild with an ACE history look for services for their grandchild; and (4) best practices for delivering services to grandfamilies with an ACE history. The research questions were primarily addressed through via interviewing 10 grandparents from Central Appalachia who were raising a grandchild with an ACE history and by conducting two focus groups of 8 to 12 formal service providers with experience working with grandparents raising grandchildren with an ACE history. Interview data were analyzed using grounded theory and focus group data were analyzed through thematic analysis. Study findings indicated that grandchildren have emotional and developmental needs. Grandparents described needs related to the emotional impact of raising a grandchild with an ACE history, family and parent involvement, and parenting a grandchild with an ACE history. Study results also highlighted how grandparents can expect to encounter barriers throughout the service seeking and delivery process. Study results also highlighted the critical nature of having a strong relationship with a service provider and the importance of a service provider reducing barriers, being attentive to grandfamily needs, and involving the grandparent in the treatment process. Finally, results from the focus groups revealed best practices such as providing grandparents with education on ACEs, being aware of intergenerational ACE cycles, and engaging in assessment and intervention when working with this population. Implications for clinical practice as well as directions for future research are discussed.



grandparents raising grandchildren, adverse childhood experiences, service delivery, grandfamilies, grounded theory, thematic analysis, kinship care