It Takes a Village to Raise a Grandchild

Research Project Overview

Families in Canada are continually evolving. This is most evident in recent census that has identified close to 30% of households being comprised of families that fall outside of the realm of two biological parents and their children living together. Of this proportion, it is reported that over 30,000 children live in a grandparent-led home where their grandparent has become the child’s the formal guardian. While this is the reported number, we have learned of many grandparents across Canada who are functioning in the dual roles of being a grandparent as well as a full time, second time parent to their grandchildren yet without having legal guardianship of their grandchildren. As we learned more about grandparents raising grandchildren in Canada, we recognized them to be a unique family form and described them as grand-families.

            In examining the phenomenon of grand-families in Canada, it had become apparent that a gap in knowledge specific to understanding the experiences of these families exists. Through recent conversations with statisticians working at Statistics Canada, we learned that statistics are not known, nor kept, regarding the actual numbers grand-families in Canada who exist but without legal guardianship. Lack of statistical data, coupled with a general lack of awareness about the issues facing grand-families leaves a critical gap in understanding about the experiences of grand-families and those who study, serve and support these families. This lack of awareness and understanding is reflected in the current gap in policies and programs that are focused on addressing the needs of grand-families in Canada.

            To address this knowledge gap, we had embarked on a multi-facetted multi-year research project. This project known as It Takes a Village to Raise a Grandchild was funded, in part, through a SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant. Led by Dr. Christina Murray (University of Prince Edward Island), Ms. Nora Spinks and Ms. Lynne Steel (Vanier Institute of the Family), and Mr. Don Avery, (Building Grand-Families Inc.) worked together to examine the experiences of grand-families in Prince Edward Island.

The objectives of this project were:

  1. To raise awareness and increase understanding regarding the experiences of grandparents raising grandchildren on Prince Edward Island.
  2. To explore what is known and not known about the needs of grand-families, from the perspectives of practitioners who support them and communities where they live; and,

3.  To gain a deeper understanding of the unique needs of grand-families and how these    can be addressed through future research, practice and policy development and other outreach products designed to raise awareness and extend the dialogue into the future.

            Adopting a partnership engagement and participatory action design, this project brings together grand-families with those who study serve and support them. The overall goal of this project is to develop a cross-provincial, interdisciplinary understanding of grand-families and illuminate various issues and challenges that are impacting them across PEI. Through a variety of engagement activities including individual and focus group interviews, collaborative community workshops, scholarship, mentoring and networking events.

These research activities will be shared locally, nationally and internationally. By connecting families, practitioners, researchers and policy makers together for open dialogue and knowledge exchange, new understanding and awareness regarding the complexities experienced by Canadian grand-families will emerge. This in turn, will provide meaningful information that can contribute to the development of public, social and economic policies that address the needs of Canadian grand-families. We look forward to the discoveries that will come through this research and embracing new opportunities to advance practices and policies that will help grand-families and those who serve and support them to thrive.

Project Activities and Timeline:

Individual and Focus Group Interviews – ongoing

To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the storied lives of grandparents within a grandfamily, we will also be conducting conversational interviews grandparents who are raising their grandchildren across PEI. During these conversations grandparents will be invited to share their stories about their experiences becoming a grand-family. Each grandparent will be interviewed only one at a time and location that works for them. We expect that each will last between 1 to 1.5 hours. Three overarching questions related the past, present and future, will guide each interview.

Click here for more information about our interviews:


Collaborative Community Workshops – Spring/Summer/Fall 2021

A series of collaborative community workshops will be offered in communities across PEI. Framed, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Grandchild”, these workshops will bring together grandparents with those in the community who study, serve or support families.By offering these collaborative community conversations in various locations across PEI, we are we are hoping to promote diversity in community representation by those who study, serve and support grandfamilies, as well as uncover additional factors specific to regional community contexts that must be considered. Through this collaborative, participatory approach to knowledge sharing, it is hoped that an increase in knowledge uptake regarding the unique needs and challenges experienced by grandfamilies will occur. Framing the community workshops through the lens of “It takes a village to raise a grandchild,” it is hoped that the workshops will become the catalyst for interdisciplinary sharing and spurn the development of new partnerships and supportive networks that are responsive to the needs of grandfamilies on PEI.    

Partnership Engagement and Networking – Spring/Summer/Fall 2021

Throughout this project we will be having numerous partnership engagement and networking events. Please check back frequently for more information.

The It Takes a Village to Raise a Grandchild project is supported in part by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Engagement Grant program.