Reunification in Custodial Grandfamilies: An Examination of Resilient Family Processes

Megan L. Dolbin‐MacNab, Gregory C. Smith, Bert Hayslip Jr. - Family Relations



This study examined how custodial grandmothers navigated the process of their grandchildren being reunified with a biological parent.


Prior research has focused on factors associated with unsuccessful reunification instead of resilient family processes that may support successful reunification. How custodial grandfamilies navigate reunification has not been examined, despite their unique relational configuration and grandparents' frequent involvement in raising their grandchildren.


Guided by Walsh's model of family resilience, semistructured, in‐depth qualitative interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of 17 grandmothers whose custodial grandchildren had been reunified with a biological parent. Data analysis was guided by grounded theory methodology.


Grandmothers believed in parents fulfilling their obligations, prioritizing grandchildren's needs, and coping via their faith. Grandmothers supported reunified parents and children by providing emotional support and instrumental assistance, while maintaining clear role boundaries. Accessing resources and engaging in open family communication were helpful to the reunification, although there were still challenges in navigating family relationships.


Within custodial grandfamilies, not all reunifications were a positive outcome for the grandchildren. Grandmothers remained heavily involved in supporting and monitoring the reunifications, with the quality of the grandmother–parent relationship being paramount.


Practitioners should address family dynamics when working with custodial grandfamilies before, during, and after a reunification.