Is It Safe For Grandparents To Look After Their Grandkids Right Now?

Grandparents are concerned about whether it's safe to provide childcare, now kids are back at school.

Every Monday we’ll answer your questions on Covid-19 and health in a feature published online. You can submit a question here.

This week, HuffPost UK reader Margaret asked: Am I ok to look after my grandchildren for one day whilst their parents are at work?

One in four working families relies on grandparents for childcare – well, that was until the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Time-starved parents used to leave their kids with grandma or grandad for a couple of days each week, but all of a sudden the option was snatched away.

Those aged 70 and over were urged to take extra precautions not to get sick, which meant forgoing visits with their grandchildren. For months, grandparents and their grandkids weren’t able to see each other (unless they waved at each other through a window), let alone touch.

The latest guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is that people from two different households can meet indoors, which means grandparents can spend time with their grandchildren – but they must socially distance. This guidance is under constant review.

Grandparents are also allowed to look after children in areas that have a local lockdown, Matt Hancock announced.

Some grandparents living alone have been able to form a support bubble with their grandchildren’s household, which means they can have close contact and don’t have to socially distance. Or, two grandparents may have formed a bubble with a single-parent household.

But with kids returning to school and becoming part of whole year group bubbles, could this jeopardise the safety of a bubble at home?

Ponomariova_Maria via Getty Images

What are the risks to grandparents?

Whether or not it’s safe for grandparents to see grandkids isn’t a simple answer – rather, a case of weighing up risks.

The main risk to grandparents is age – we know a person’s risk of becoming severely ill with Covid-19 increases as they get older. Those aged 70+ are considered at moderate risk (or clinically vulnerable) by the NHS. Men and people from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background also have a greater risk of becoming ill – so older people in these groups should be more cautious.

People who are considered at highest risk from coronavirus because of underlying health conditions – also known as clinically extremely vulnerable – might want to politely decline the opportunity to provide childcare unless they can guarantee they’ll be able to socially distance from their grandchildren.

This factor will obviously depend on the child’s age – if you’ve agreed to look after a child who is a bit older and can amuse themselves, it’s a lot easier to keep your distance. But with younger babies and toddlers, this is impossible.

“School year group bubbles are separate from support bubbles, DHSC told HuffPost UK.”

School year group bubbles are separate from support bubbles, DHSC told HuffPost UK, as children are urged to socially distance and keep in their year group bubbles to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It’s not a case of one or the other. With this in mind, it’s worth considering whether your grandchild is of an age where they would understand the importance of social distancing from other kids in their class – if they’re quite young, it’s likely they’ll be closely interacting with lots of other children, and potentially bringing germs home.

We know from studies of schools reopening that primary school children seem to be less at risk of catching Covid-19 and spreading it than secondary school children. We also know kids tend to be asymptomatic – where they don’t show symptoms – far more than adults. This could mean that your grandchild may be carrying Covid-19 without anyone realising it.

When asked about the risks of children returning from school and then seeing their grandparents, Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said during a webinar: “Clearly children can be asymptomatic, children can be infectious, clearly they can carry risk for adults, there is no pretence that they do not. The truth is that appears to be one of the least common ways that adults get infected.”

There’s a very low risk of children becoming severely ill with the virus, but the risk to you as a grandparent would be much higher, the older you are.

Household transmission appears to be the most likely way to catch Covid-19, according to an analysis by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Probably because people relax their hygiene standards and social distancing at home, as they’re in a familiar environment with people they trust.

There are certain environmental conditions that appear to fuel the spread of the virus, too, Quentin Leclerc, a PhD researcher in mathematical modelling of infectious disease, previously told HuffPost UK. Being indoors, having people in close proximity, and poor ventilation seem to facilitate greater transmission, he said. So, to prevent the spread of the virus, we need to avoid close contact settings and closed spaces with poor ventilation.

So, grandparents shouldn’t hug or kiss grandkids?

Hugging and kissing grandchildren after they come back from school may not be the “most sensible thing to do”, said Prof Viner. “I think if there are highly vulnerable clinically shielding grandparents and others, that actually full-on hugging and kissing your grandchildren after they come back from school may not be the most sensible way to behave,” he said.

“We don’t believe in cutting off all physical contact between children and grandparents, but actually a lot of kissing and that kind of thing might not be the most sensible thing to do.”

Prof Viner added: “Keeping children seeing grandparents is important, making sure they wash their hands etc when they come out of school. Being sensible, being relatively secure, I think is the way forward.”

Advice for looking after grandchildren safely

It’s ultimately up to you whether you choose to look after your grandchild (or grandchildren). If you do, ways to lower your risk of catching the virus include:

  • Reducing close contact by keeping more than 1m distance from your grandchild as much as possible;

  • Spending more time together outdoors or in rooms where windows can be opened;

  • Encouraging your grandchild to wash their hands before and after seeing them, as well as during their stay – after using the toilet, before eating, etc. You should do the same.

  • If you are really worried about indoor transmission, you could wear a face mask indoors. A study found wearing face (surgical) masks at home, opening windows and frequently disinfecting surfaces helped to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the home.

  • Wipe down surfaces and touch points (like door handles, light switches, TV remotes etc) after your grandchild has gone home.

  • You might also want to avoid activities that involve singing and shouting, as this can increase the risk of transmission – there’s potential for virus-laden droplets to be flung further from your grandchild’s mouth and onto you, or nearby surfaces.

Experts are still learning about Covid-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but guidance could change as scientists discover more about the virus. To keep up to date with health advice and cases in your area, visit and