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Grandparents and looking after grandchildren during coronavirus

coronavirus grandparents

Updated 29/09/20

Following a rise in coronavirus cases in the UK, the government has announced local restrictions. These new rules mean households in certain areas are not allowed to meet with each other. However, there are some exceptions allowing for informal childcare arrangements, including that provided by grandparents. This move has been welcomed by parents who have relied upon grandparents for childcare in order to return to work. These local restrictions are on top of the new rule of six brought in on the 14th September which prohibited gatherings of more than six people (indoors or outdoors). 


Why has the government changed its mind in allowing grandparents to look after grandchildren?

Health secretary Matt Hancock had this to say: "I've heard the concerns about the impact of local action on childcare arrangements. For many, informal childcare arrangements are a lifeline, without which they couldn't do their jobs.

"So, today I'm able to announce a new exemption for looking after children under the age of 14 or vulnerable adults where that is necessary for caring purposes.This covers both formal and informal arrangements. It does not allow for play-dates or parties, but it does mean that a consistent childcare relationship that is vital for somebody to get to work is allowed."


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Grandparents, childcare and coronavirus: your questions answered 


How do the new rules allowing informal childcare affect grandparents?

The government has finally acknowledged the immense pressure families are under when it comes to making sure children are looked after. In areas where tighter restrictions have been announced two households are not allowed to mix. However, given that millions of families rely on informal childcare - for instance, that provided from family such as grandparents - in order to go to work, the government has said this will be allowed. 


How do grandparents feel about the new rule?

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."


How does the rule of six affect grandparents?

The new guidelines, which came into effect on Monday, 14th September, mean two households can still meet in any location while observing social distancing, but the group must not contain more than six people.

In a briefing, prime minister Boris Johnson said: "These measures are not another national lockdown. The whole point of them is to avoid a second national lockdown."

There are some exceptions to what Johnson calls the 'rule of six' and groups of more than six will be allowed under the following circumstances:

  • If your household or support bubble is larger than six
  • Places of work and schools
  • Weddings and funerals
  • Team sports organised safely to limit spread of coronavirus

Till now the rules allowed up to 30 people from two households, or six from multiple households, to meet outdoors, so the new rules will certainly affect social events like family gatherings. Here's what gransnetters have said about how the new restrictions will impact them:

"Well, we are going away in 10 days time to Dorset there will be eight adults and two children. Not sure how we’re going to manage this yet. We will have to have a long talk about this."

"DGD’s family birthday will have to be rethought - it was going to be 10 people. Maybe we can have two sittings! Can we do that ? One group for lunch then they go home and another group for tea? Seems a bit ridiculous...."

"We’re going away on Friday, to a cottage in a small, isolated village. We are six, plus an 18-month-old. These new restrictions come in on our daughter’s 30th birthday. My daughter is pregnant, and really needs this break. She has ME, and struggled through the first lockdown, and I couldn’t help her. 

It’s NOT going to stop us. We’ve been careful from the start. If my daughter doesn’t get some reprieve, she could crash to the point she won’t recover for the birth. We’re fed up of it all like everyone else, and we just pray to be kept safe."


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Can grandparents provide childcare for their grandchildren?

Yes. In areas that are under tighter local restrictions, informal childcare, such as that provided by grandparents, will now be allowed. This is wonderful news, not only from a practical level for all those families who rely on grandparents in order to go back to work, but also from an emotional point of view. Grandparents have missed the contact with their grandchildren and have felt isolated and lonely as a result. According to new research, childcare costs have soared 13% over the past year and families are struggling. This new announcement from Health Secretary in which the goverment finally recognises the immense pressure households are under, is one that is welcomed. 

However, there is still some confusion about how much contact is allowed. 

Official guidance from the government website stipulates that (in England), two households are able to meet up in any location, as long as the group consists of six or fewer people. However, unless they are one of those in a support bubble (single adult households only) then they are still required to socially distance. Therefore, grandparents who are not part of this bubble have been advised that they should only provide childcare if they are able to do so while maintaining a distance of one metre - a not entirely practical option if you are looking after small (or even older) children.

Update: The government has recently amended its advice to say the following:
"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.

As places of education are exempt from the 'rule of six', schools will remain open to all students, meaning some grandparents will still have to provide after-school childcare for their grandchildren. If this applies to you, read our tips on how to make the school run safer.

Despite this guidance, it's clear from the Gransnet forums that many grandparents have assessed their own individual 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, and who are now returning to work, this is the only way they are able to make sure their children are looked after.

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 looking forward to 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. 


Current top Coronavirus-related conversations:

Support bubbles 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.

When were grandparents first allowed to start seeing their grandchildren?

On 1st June, lockdown was eased to allow groups of up to six people to meet outdoors in England as long as strict social distancing guidelines were followed. This meant that grandparents who had so far been kept from their grandchildren were finally able to meet up with them in an outdoor setting. But questions remained: what exactly did the new social distancing rules mean for grandparents in the UK?  Would they be able to provide childcare during the coronavirus pandemic? What measures are being put in place to keep older and more vulnerable grandparents safe once children go back to school? 

"I'm so excited to be able to see my grandchildren again, and while we may have to keep our distance, it's another step closer to being able to hug them again eventually." FruityGran


Am I allowed to see my grandchildren?

Yes. Grandparent households are able to meet up in any setting with that of their grandchildren's household, as long as the number doesn't exceed six people. But social distancing must still be observed. At the moment only grandparents who live on their own and form bubbles with their grandchildren's households are allowed to relax social distancing guidelines - allowing them to hug their grandchildren. For those who live a great distance away it also means that they are able to make the journey and stay overnight. For some, whose families have welcomed new additions during this time, this will be especially poignant. 


Can I babysit my grandchildren?

  • Live on your own? Yes, if you are not shielding you are able to form a bubble with another household which could be that of your grandchildren. You will not be required to follow social distancing so practically this allows you to babysit them. 
  • Live with a partner or other adult? Yes. Even if you are in one of the areas with tighter restrictions, new measures, announced yesterday mean that families can now rely on informal childcare. However, strictly speaking if you are not part of the two-household bubble, you are required to observe social distancing. For younger children this may make childcare impractical. The government has finally recognised this and advises people to keep as much distance as possible and be extra vigilant with hygiene.   

More information on childcare

As mentioned above, the government has announced that from the 4th July grandparents will be able to resume childcare duties.

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."

Some gransnetters are also worried that they will be forced to break rules to look after their grandchildren: "My daughter is a single parent of three. As a teacher, she has been allowed to work from home but is needed back in school from mid-June. I've always cared for the 2-year-old and done the school run and after school care, etc. What is she supposed to do now if I don't take up where I left off before lockdown? Any decision I make has to be balanced against breaking the rules and possibly putting myself and husband at risk."

"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 no longer necessary. However, if your local area experiences an increase in rates of infection and has to go into lockdown, extra precautions will need to be taken. You can find more details on whether or not your area is included and what needs to be done on 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

As English schools have now reopened to all students for the first time since March, many grandparents will find 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 (at least they did pre-Covid-19). So what are their plans now the schools are reopening? 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.  


Top threads on grandparents and childcare during coronavirus


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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