• May 2010
  • Vol. 11, No. 4

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A Family Therapy Model for Grandfamilies

Many of the 1.5 million children being raised by their grandparents have suffered some family-related trauma that led to them living with their grandparents. This trauma may have been caused by abandonment, abuse or neglect, parental drug dependence, domestic violence, or mental health conditions that reduced a parent's ability to care for a child. These same traumatic events may cause grandparents to suffer from grief and trauma.

An article published in Children and Youth Services Review suggests that interventions that target both grandchild and grandparent within a family therapy model may be most effective for promoting healing in grandfamilies. The article, "Trauma, Attachment, and Family Therapy With Grandfamilies: A Model for Treatment," proposes that attachments formed between grandparent and grandchild often facilitate healing for both. The article introduces an attachment-based model of family therapy and discusses how family therapy can be used to facilitate attachment healing, moderate family trauma, and even disrupt generational patterns of dysfunctional relationships. Rather than focusing on increasing the grandparent's parenting skills, the model focuses on increasing the mutual attachment of grandparent and grandchild through healthy interactions and attachment experiences.

While the authors suggest that practitioners treating grandfamilies must acknowledge the unique characteristics of the family constellation, there are some common issues that should be assessed as part of the therapy:

  • Children should be evaluated for the effects of the trauma.
  • Children should also be evaluated for any delays in physical, emotional, and intellectual development.
  • Grandparents should be assessed for the effects of the trauma.
  • Grandparents should also be evaluated for the emotional and psychological consequences of full-time caregiving.
  • The impact of stress, reduced socialization, increased financial obligations, and legal problems on grandparents should also be considered.

"Trauma, Attachment, and Family Therapy With Grandfamilies: A Model for Treatment," Children and Youth Services Review, 32(1), was written by Deena D. Strong, Roy A. Bean, and Leslie L. Feinauer, and is available for purchase online:


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