According to research from Age UK, 40% of grandparents over 50 take on regular care of grandchildren, with one in ten of them doing so at least once a day. These unpaid grandparent carers save the economy around £4 billion a year.
Many of these grandchildren are of pre-school age; many are children of one-parent families. All-day nursery care can easily cost £2,000 a term. Financial realities mean that many young mothers have to go out to work, in fact figures from ONS said that in 2019 over 75% of women with children were in work, compared to 60% in 2000.
In the virtual absence of affordable nurseries and of creches at the workplace, many parents feel that asking the grandparents to look after the child or children is often the only option. And many grandparents feel they, too, have no option but to offer to do the childcare, full or part time.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your caring duties, or you’d like to meet other grandparents in your situation, there are some resources available to help.
If you are a grandmother - or grandfather - looking after a grandchild it does not mean you have to be trapped at home all day with the child. Most areas have playgroups and toddler groups, nursery-rhyme music groups, toy libraries and the like, meeting in church halls or similar venues.
These places will have lots of toys to play with, and, just as valuable for a lone pre-school child, lots of other toddlers to play with as well. At such places the carer accompanies the child, and the word 'carer' includes grandparents as well as parents, nannies, au pairs and child-minders. They are also useful places to meet others in a similar position. Local notice-boards, shop windows, libraries and newspapers should help identify where they are. Even some mother and baby groups welcome grandmothers and babies - one can but try.
Please note that because of coronavirus restrictions these services might be limited or taking place virtually in 2020.
If you are uncertain what stage of development your grandchild, - say a two-year-old toddler - should be at, or what toys and games are appropriate, Family Lives (previously named Parentline) gives parenting advice, on everything from child aggression to nutrition to discipline - and of course they'll give it to grandparents as well as to parents. They have a confidential e-mail support service as well, manned by volunteers who try to reply within three working days - or if your problem is more urgent, telephone their confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222.
Family Lives also includes information on setting up a grandparent and toddler group in your neighbourbood, if there isn't one in your area already.
Grandparents Plus offers an advice service for kinship carers - family members or close friends taking on the care of a child. Around half of kinship carers in the country are grandparents.
This care could be an informal arrangement with the parents, or the child might have been placed in the care of a relative by the local authority, or under a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianships Order, usually because of drug or alcohol misuse.
Grandparents Plus provides a network of support groups to bring together kinship carers in the community across the UK, as well as providing a wealth of resources on education, financial support, housing and legal options.
Have a grandchild in the care system? Read our guide to staying a part of the life of a grandchild in care.
The Children’s Society
With Age UK research finding that a third of grandparents consider themselves a confidant for their grandchildren it is useful to know there is information on hand to help guide grandchildren through difficult times where you might feel out of your depth, whether that’s helping them with their mental health, problems at home or even with the police in the case of teenage grandchildren.
The Children’s Society provides information for children dealing with abusive relationships, addicted parents, trouble with the police and more. Their aim is to help children through crisis and offer guidance, and their website is a good resource with an advice hub to help children navigate through difficult times.
Getting paid to look after grandchildren
Specified Adult Childcare
As of April 2011, grandparents under pension age looking after grandchildren under 12 are eligible for NI credits under the Specified Adult Childcare scheme, as long as certain criteria are met. This scheme transfers the NI credits attached to Child Benefit from the CB recipient (parent) to the adult carer which can help top up gaps in your National Insurance and boost your pension by up to £250 a year. If you haven't claimed this credit before but have been looking after your grandchild you can claim for previous years.
Visit Gov.UK for more information on Specified Adult Childcare.
Being eligible for childcare vouchers
If the employer or college of the child's parents contributes to childcare costs, for example via childcare vouchers, they may insist that the child is placed with a registered childcarer.
If this is the case there is no reason why the grandparent should not apply to become registered, and thus eligible for the payment. The process takes a few months, and involves a criminal record check, an Ofsted inspection of your home, and short courses in childminding and children's first-aid. Childminding UK has further details.
Subscribe today for just £3 for 3 issues...