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Grandparents and looking after grandchildren during coronavirus

coronavirus childcare

Updated 26th November 2020

LATEST: UK leaders have agreed that up to three households can meet indoors during a five day Christmas period of 23-27th December. They have also released a list of local restrictions across England. For more on the tiered system read on.

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Are grandparents allowed to help with childcare from 3rd December?

On Wednesday 23rd November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that when lockdown ends on 2nd December, England will enter into a new three-tier system. So what does that mean for families? Will grandparents be able to spend Christmas with their loved ones? And will they be allowed to provide childcare for their grandchildren?

The government has announced a reprieve over the Christmas period, meaning that up to three households can meet indoors from the 23rd-27th September. Johnson did however caution that families will need to make a careful judgement on visiting older relatives. 

The government has now announced which areas will go into which tier, with many such as London and Liverpool falling into Tier 2 (High Alert). while several areas including Manchester, Birmingham and Kent are having to observe the tougher restrictions of Tier 3. These will be reviewed in two weeks time.  

When it comes to childcare it is reassuring to hear that grandparents will continue to be allowed to provide 'informal childcare' regardless of their local Tier restrictions. 


What are the restrictions where I am? 

The government has announced a list of local restrictions here. 

  • England began a second national lockdown at midnight on 5th November which will last until at least 2nd December.
  • Wales has come out of their national 'firebreak' and have new nationwide regulations. Businesses have reopened and two families are able to form a bubble. Read more here.
  • Scotland has introduced a new five-tier regional system. You can read more here
  • Northern Ireland is currently under tighter restrictions for four weeks. You can read more here. These will be updated on 27th November. You can read more about the new restrictions here

 Read here for more details on how the changes affect older people including users' comments. 


Second national lockdown in England - what has it meant for grandparents? 

Although families in England are restricted from mixing unless they are part of a support bubble (see below) there are some exceptions allowing for support and childcare arrangements, including that provided by grandparents. This move is welcomed by parents who rely upon grandparents for childcare in order to return to work, as well as grandparents who are have felt increasingly isolated, and are keen to spend more time with their grandchildren, as well as help out their adult children. Not being able to see family for so long has been devastating for many grandparents, many of whom saw their grandchildren on a regular basis pre-Covid.


What is a childcare bubble?

According to the government website, "Childcare bubbles are to be used to provide childcare only, and not for the purposes of different households mixing where they are otherwise not allowed to do so." So as grandparents, if you look after your grandchildren, providing what the government refers to as 'informal childcare', then you are able to see your grandchildren for that purpose. This does not apply to households where the youngest child is 14 or over. It also does not mean that you can meet with them for other social occasions. See the government website for more information on childcare bubbles.


What is a support bubble for grandparents?

At the moment, people who live on their own are able to form a bubble and stay overnight with another household (currently this applies to England). This allows single grandparents to visit their extended family and reunite those grandparents who have so far been unable to see their grandchildren. The government says these measures are part of an effort to alleviate loneliness for those who are isolated. However, as this only applies to single-adult households, it excludes grandparents who are in a couple (unless of course their adult child lives in a single-adult household).


Are you able to be in both a childcare bubble and a support bubble?

Yes. At the time of writing, there was nothing in the government guidelines stating that you are not allowed to be part of a support bubble as well as a childcare bubble. It does however make sense to limit your number of contacts, and therefore risk of cross-infection, as much as possible. 


Am I allowed to change my childcare bubbles?

No. The government website is clear that if you start a childcare bubble after the 5th November, you can not change that bubble. So for instance, if you are already looking after your son's children, you are not able to then switch and start looking after your daughter's children. 


Can I stay in a childcare bubble over Christmas?

Yes, over the designated Christmas period (23-27th December) you are allowed to provide childcare where reasonably necessary as part of a 'childcare bubble'. However, if you socialise with that household then you will need to become one of the three allowed households within that bubble.


Top conversations today


Social distancing and childcare

How does this work? There is still some confusion about how much contact is allowed when grandparents are looking after their grandchildren. 

Official guidance from the government website stipulates that, unless grandparents are in a support bubble (single adult households only) with their grandchildren, then they are still required to socially distance. 

However, the government finally recognised the impracticality of sticking to this with small children and amended its advice, meaning that in certain circumstance where it is not practical to observe social distancing (i.e. with small children) grandparents should simply exercise caution and common sense, with an even greater emphasis on washing hands etc.

"We recognise that grandparents and other relatives often provide informal childcare for young children, and this can be very important. Although you should try to maintain social distance from people you do not live with wherever possible, it may not always be practicable to do so when providing care to a young child or infant. If this is this case - and where young children may struggle to keep social distance – you should still limit close contact as much as possible, and take other precautions such as washing hands and clothes regularly."

You can read more about what you can and can't do here.


Are grandparents allowed to see their familes for Christmas?

Many grandparents are understandably worried about Christmas and spending another family occasion away from loved ones, having already missed out on births, first steps, birthdays and other special occasions.

At the moment though, unless you are in a support bubble families are unable to mix. Grandparents across England are waiting to see what will be announced when we come to the proposed end of our second lockdown (2nd December). Depending on how successful these measures have been, the government will either relax restrictions, decide to keep them in place. or make them even stricter. Most have resigned themselve to spending Christmas without the usual family get togethers and are making alternative plans to get through the festive season alone.

Conversations on Gransnet show that most people are sticking to the rules and are justifiably worried about the threat of this virus. Many have come to terms with not seeing their family for the festive season, hard as it may be, although the fact that there is no clear end in sight is incredibly wearing on their mental health. 

"I would like to see all my family but I know this will be impossible this year. I hope I will see those in my bubble but will see what the situation is nearer the time." Agaa4

"People are fixed on Christmas but unless they close schools, colleges and universities this virus is not going anywhere." Nanawind


Can grandparents in Scotland provide childcare?

Yes. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that even in areas on the highest restrictions (Level 4) people are allowed to go out and about for childcare, caring, essential shopping and exercise. 


Can grandparents in Wales provide childcare?

Now that Wales' 'firebreak' has come to an end, two families are allowed to form a 'bubble'. Even outside of this support bubble, informal childcare such as that provided by grandparent and other family members or friends is allowed, although it's suggested that "this form of childcare should only be used when no other methods are available".

There is currently no reference to grandparents and childcare during coronavirus on the Welsh government website


Do the new rules mean I should shield from my family?

Even though the coronavirus infection rate is rising rapidly across the country, in England at least, shielding has not been reintroduced. It is thought that other measures (wearing a face mask and the rule of six) are sufficient for the time being. People who have preivously been on the shielding list should have been sent a letter with more information on staying safe. In the meanime the advice is to take extra precautions. 


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Grandparents, childcare and coronavirus: your questions answered   

How did grandparents feel about the new rule about informal childcare?

On the whole, the response from grandparents has been overwhelmingly positive. You can read the whole conversation here:

"Seems a pragmatic move, if the government wants parents to work many can only do so with extended family support. I will be happy to pick my grandson up from school at present, while the number of cases in our area is below average."

Although others are more sceptical:

"Of course the advice is that granny can babysit. It's good for the economy. Yes, it's dangerous and granny might die - but that saves on the pensions bill - so a win win situation from the government point of view!"

There is also concern that this rule may be misinterpreted and people may end up using it to flout the rules: 

"People really should not be so selfish as to think this rule includes social visits for Sunday lunch."


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Can grandparents take grandchildren to school?

It's clear from the Gransnet forums that many grandparents have assessed their own individual health risks and decided that for them looking after their grandchildren is necessary. For many families, who rely on grandparents for childcare and the school run, this is the only way they are able to make sure their children are looked after. Many breakfast and after school clubs across the country are currently closed or have limited capacity. If this applies to you, read our tips on how to make the school run safer.

Gransnet users who, pre-Covid-19, looked after their grandchildren on a regular basis find themselves tantalisingly close to finally being able to go back to their old routines. Not only have they been missing the precious time spent with their grandchildren, but they are also relishing helping out parents who have been struggling till now.  

In our recent survey it was revealed that 41% of grandparents say lockdown has made them feel less close to their grandchildren, and 28% say they are worried about rebuilding the relationship once lockdown is over. 


Is it safe for grandparents to provide childcare during the coronavirus pandemic?

There is concern on the Gransnet forums about the health risks of providing childcare. One gransnetter said: "I would love to get back into regular childcare (guidelines permitting) but with my grandchildren back in nursery or school in a week or two, I'm nervous about the risks we run when we have no idea who they'll have been in contact with."

"The fact is, regardless of how fit, active, otherwise healthy, the older one is, the more depleted one's immune system." welbeck


What about grandparents who are over 70 or are shielding?

The government has assessed that shielding is currently unnecessary. However, with the recent increase in infections, extra precautions are advised. You can find out more about shielding on this page of the government website. 

In the meantime, the risk of loneliness and damage to mental health from these restrictions can not be underestimated so please do read over these loneliness resources if you are feeling particularly frustrated or worried about how lockdown has affected you. If you fancy some virtual company, do join in our conversations, particularly Soop's Kitchen or look out for our daily Good Morning threads.  


How do I maintain the relationship with my grandchildren if isolated?

With 44% of those we surveyed saying that they are worried about the relationship between themselves and their grandchildren during lockdown, it's clear grandparenting has never been so hard. While we all understand the need to practise social distancing during this pandemic, we also know how important it is to keep in touch with friends and family. With many of us falling within the ‘high-risk’ category, this time can be particularly difficult, especially if you’re usually the one looking after the grandchildren while their parents are working. Being apart from them for a prolonged period of time, or not being able to cuddle them when we do see them in real life, can be very difficult.

But not to worry, as our users have found, there are still ways to help out and stay connected to your grandchildren, without putting ourselves - or them - at risk.


Back to school

Many grandparents have found themselves providing childcare again, this time with the extra anxieties of preventing the spread of coronavirus. We know from previous research that over 50% of our users provided regular childcare for their grandchildren (pre-Covid-19). So what are people doing now that children are back at school and yet the coronavirus infections are on the increase? Will grandparents still be doing the school run? How will families manage without the support of the grandparent army? And what precautions can grandparents take to make themselves and their grandchildren feel safe?

Luckily, we have the collective wisdom of the Gransnet users to draw on (over 350k users a month) and they are generous with sharing their expert tips on how to make the school run safer.   


How to make the school run safer 

1. Make sure you're well aware of the school's guidelines on pick-up and drop-off

"They seem to have thought of lots of things to avoid the crowds and keep the flow going."

Most schools will have implemented things like one-way systems, slightly different times for collection and other new rules. Make sure you've seen the most up to date newsletter with instructions and guidance on where you need to be and when.


2. Take proper precautions when picking up kids

"I will be keeping my distance at the school gate but this shouldn't be a problem as I don't know anyone and the classes will be having staggered exit times." 

For some it is very tempting to go back to the social chit-chat of the usual school pick-up, but it's still very important for parents, grandparents and other caregivers who are doing the school run to socially distance.


3. Clean contact points if you're using a car

"I heard today that we should clean the car every time we use it. This is for people giving lifts and I suppose that includes taking children to school. Wiping of door handles was specified."

Cleaning contact points can help to stop the spread of the virus. Always make sure you have disinfecting wipes and hand sanitiser with you, so you can easily wipe down the surfaces your grandchild touches, for example door handles, dashboards and seatbelt fasteners. It's also good practise to do this in the house too, especially with things like door handles and tables. 


4. Have a change of clothes so they're not in their uniform

"I would certainly wipe down their hands before they get into the car, and yes, changing out of school uniform once they get home seems sensible too."

If you're anxious about the spread of coronavirus in your grandchild's school, having a spare set of clothes for them so they can change out of the uniform they've been in all day may help to ease your concerns. 


5. Supervise them to ensure they wash their hands properly

"I feel with children you have to supervise things like hand washing to ensure they are doing it thoroughly and for long enough."

By now we should all know the advice on washing your hands more frequently with soap for 20 seconds to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Children, particularly younger ones, may not always understand the importance of this so a good tip if you're providing childcare is to watch them to make sure that they're washing their hands for long enough. You can find the NHS's advice on washing your hands correctly here.

At the start of the pandemic, the government suggested washing your hands to the length of 'Happy Birthday' twice to ensure you were doing it for long enough, so you could incorporate a song or two into the routine for the little ones to make it fun and more memorable for them when they are washing their hands alone.


6. Use separate towels

"Without constantly nagging the grandchildren I am going to make sure they wash their hands thoroughly using separate towels."

If you're anxious about catching the virus from your grandchildren, this gransnetter suggests making sure that you have different towels available to them so they can wash their hands, and not infect the towels that you use yourself.

7. Try not to transfer any anxiety you may have to your grandchildren 

"These are your precious grandchildren and you want to give them positive experiences with you, not fearful experiences."

Little people pick up on our worries and if they don't verbalise it, could react emotionally, with bad behaviour or in some other way. Where possible be honest with them about your feelings but also reassure them that measures are in place to keep you and them safe. 


8. Set clear guidelines for expectations with parents

"It puts us grandparents into a difficult situation. In the event of an outbreak, should we then cover childcare? Or will the parents be allowed to work from home? That would be difficult for some employees. Tricky!"

If there is an outbreak in your grandchild's year group, or in the local area, it's important that you and the parents have some sort of contingency plan in place. It's best to discuss in advance what will happen and who will look after the children if you are concerned that the risk to your own health becomes too great. 


9. Don't be afraid to say no

"I love my grandchildren dearly but I am not doing childcare at the moment. I think it is too risky."

If you think the risk is too great, parents should respect your worries and you should not feel pressurised or obliged to look after your grandchildren if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe doing so. Remember, as one gransnetter put it, it is better for your grandchildren not to be able to see you for a few weeks or months, than to never see you again. Sobering that.  


How to use technology to keep in touch with family

grandparents and grandchildren coronavirus video calling

If you aren't able to be there in real life, that's not to say you can't find other, creative ways to keep the bond with your grandchildren. 

Five ways to entertain grandchildren from a distance

Whether it's reading books, telling stories, sharing jokes, watching TV 'together' at the same time or doing virtual quizzes, there are lots of things you can do to help stay connected. Some great ideas from our users include: 

1) Set them a challenge

"I have made a video for my grandson in the US, showing him how to make a paper aeroplane. It'll keep him out of his mum's hair for eight minutes. To my other grandchild, I am sending letters with pictures to colour, and will follow up with songs, poems, jokes, recipes and things to make and do."

2) Send them some plants

“I have sent an individual letter to my grandchildren with a packet of vegetable seeds to plant (the ones they like) with some jokes and will do this as long this goes on. Everyone likes to get a letter.”

3) Mirror their activities online

“If you are able to get hold of something like play-doh and your granddaughter has some, you could challenge one another to copy what each of you are making over a video call.”

4) Play guessing games

“I'd have a load of props just out of sight… daft hat, weird ornament… make her guess what's in your hand… each new thing will make her laugh.”

5) Help them with their homework

"I contribute by sending them a Word of the Day via WhatsApp video. I choose daft words that they will enjoy repeating, but which will hopefully add to their useful vocabulary at the same time - if they remember them... It's good for me too - browsing the dictionary every day for new words is very educational!"

Take a look at our forums for more on this topic:

Disclaimer: The health information on our pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Gransnet would urge you to consult the NHS coronavirus website if you are concerned you or someone you know has the disease.


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