Elder Abuse and Grandparent Caregivers

By Christine A. Fruhauf, Ph.D., Kim Bundy-Fazioli, Ph.D. and Jacque Miller, M.S.

elder abuse

Elder abuse is a topic not openly discussed among grandparents and professionals working with grandparent caregivers - but, it is important and should not be ignored. Elder abuse may not directly impact you, but you may have friends within your support network or you may serve grandparent caregivers that experience abuse from their grandchildren.

Researchers (i.e., Brownell, Berman, Nelson, & Fofana, 2003) discovered that grandparents experience risks associated with raising grandchildren including physical, psychological, and financial harm or abuse. This maybe alarming, but participants in Brownell et al.'s work learned that there are grandchildren who punch, hit, or threw objects at their grandparents as one case worker stated, "I had a 14-year-old boy [on my caseload] who was 6'2" and 180 pounds and he was abusing his grandmother and she would never tell. She kept coming up with excuses that she had these accidents, broken legs, broken arms, broken ribs…" (p. 19). In addition to physical abuse, grandparents also experienced psychological harm and verbal abuse from their grandchildren. For example, grandparents stated that grandchildren often cursed and talked back to them – often resulting in disrespectful behavior. Finally, financial or material abuse of grandparents from grandchildren was found in the form of stealing money or destroying or stealing grandparents' valued personal possessions. A grandmother stated that her grandchild stole "all the money" and she did not have money to pay rent and other bills.

Many grandparents said this aggressive behavior is common. They stated that because of the trauma grandchildren experienced earlier in life, grandparents believe this behavior is how grandchildren cope. Additionally, case managers reflected they witnessed this behavior. However, they experienced this as annoying "normal adolescent behavior" and not always abusive towards grandparents.

Should you or a friend experience harm or abuse from a grandchild, avoid keeping it a secret. Concealing this behavior will only cause harm for the grandparent and the grandchild. The goal is to help grandchildren learn healthier ways for dealing with unresolved trauma. If this behavior is permitted, the grandchild will most likely carry this behavior into other relationship causing further harm to self and others.

There are many professionals willing to help grandparents whose grandchildren engage in destructive behaviors. You do not need to deal with this alone. Seek assistance from counselors, faith-based services, grandparent support group meetings, schools (i.e., teachers and school counselors), and local law enforcement.


Brownell, P., Berman, J., Nelson, A., & Fofana, R. C. (2003). Grandparents raising grandchildren: The risks of caregiving. Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect, 15(3/4), 5-31.