Aims: To explore the experiences and needs of grandparents who care for their grandchildren because of parental substance misuse.
Design: A two phase qualitative study involving individual interviews with grandparents followed by four focus groups, two with grandparents and two with professionals.
Setting: Community based study in Birmingham.
Participants: 21 grandparents who were caring for grandchildren because of parental substance misuse, and 16 professionals from a range of local services and one national organisation.
Measurements: A semi-structured interview schedule guided the individual interviews. Emerging themes from the preliminary thematic analysis of the interviews then guided the structure of the focus groups with grandparents and professionals to facilitate further discussion of the emerging themes.
Findings and Conclusions: The grandparents made major changes in all areas of their lives when they became involved in the care of their grandchildren, often making huge personal sacrifices to do so and usually experiencing financial hardship as a result. Nevertheless, all the grandparents felt that their grandchildren benefitted through the care that they provided. The parental substance misuse brought multiple challenges for the grandparents who often struggled with the fallout from the substance misuse and its impact and faced torn loyalties between their own children and their grandchildren as a result. Grandparents faced dilemmas in supporting contact between the grandchildren and their parents, and in knowing how best to talk to the children about the parental substance misuse. The grandparents had little knowledge of what services were available and had received very little by way of support, finding the statutory system a particularly complex minefield to manoeuvre and in most cases particularly lacking in support. A range of ideas were discussed which could help improve services for grandparents and grandchildren. In light of the increased attention which is being given to kinship care this study makes a useful contribution to an area where little research has been conducted.