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100,000 grandparents looking after children despite COVID-19 guidance

There are 100,000 grandparents looking after their grandchildren during the outbreak of COVID-19 – despite government guidance stating that over 70-year-olds and those with underlying health conditions should be in self-isolation.

The 100,000 grandparents make up an army of 200,000 kinship carers of grandparents, relatives and friends of children who cannot live with their parents for a variety of reasons.

For people with underlying health conditions including people with severe respiratory conditions and people with specific cancers, government guidance states: “We are strongly advising people with serious underlying health conditions, which put them at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19), to rigorously follow shielding measures in order to keep themselves safe.”

The guidance adds that people with underlying health conditions are “strongly advised to stay at home at all times for a period of at least 12 weeks” and should “avoid going out for food and medicine”. This group should ask a friend, neighbour or family member to bring them supplies where possible.

Furthermore, people aged 70 or over or those aged under 70 with an underlying health condition are advised to be “particularly stringent in following social distancing measures”. While everyone should be social distancing, over 70’s and those with an underlying health condition (or those who are pregnant) are “strongly advised to follow the measures as much as you can and to significantly limit your face-to-face interaction with friends and family if possible”.

The Problem Facing Grandparents and Kinship Carers

However, this is not possible for kinship carers to adhere to including Kathryn and Roger Bennett who featured in a Channel 4 documentary recently. Their daughter died nine years ago and they have been raising her three children because there are no other family members able to do so.

“If we get it [coronavirus], we may not survive it, the children will be left again and may end up in care,” said Kathryn, who has heart problems and asthma and whose husband Roger is a diabetic.

The family are self-isolating and taking precautions such as bleaching door handles and surfaces, washing hands carefully and they have plastic gloves and face masks. They slammed people who flouted self-isolating measures as “disgusting” and “selfish”.

Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group, said: “It is a very invisible group in our society. It is really important that their circumstances are recognised by all of us because the children will have particular needs and those carers will have particular needs.”

“A prime example of that is comments such as ‘don’t send your children to live with their grandparents’ but there are 100,000 children already living with their grandparents so they need recognition is all sorts of ways,” she added.

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