Kin Caregivers and the Pandemic

by Glenda Clare •

While COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for all North Carolinians, grandfamilies have been especially hard hit. More than 89,000 North Carolina children and youth are members of grandfamilies created when a grandparent or other family member raises the child of a relative unable or unwilling to parent. Although most heads of grandfamilies are under age 60 and working, nearly a third are older and therefore among the highest risk populations impacted by COVID-19.

For all practical purposes, these relatives are first responders.

It is virtually impossible for older kin caregivers to socially distance from the children in their care. For all practical purposes, these relatives are first responders. They are scared for their health and concerned about what will happen to them if they get sick. Yet they are there every day to provide love and care for those they are raising.

In this article I would like to acknowledge common challenges faced by grandfamilies during the pandemic and present resources that may help them cope.

Common Challenges and Resources

The 3 Ws. Many grandfamilies are following the mandate to wear a mask, wait 6-10 feet apart, and wash hands frequently. Little ones as young as 5-6 years old are wearing masks. Getting children to wear them properly can be tough, but families are making an effort. To keep a 6-10 feet distance, when possible grandfamilies are keeping children at home or taking them to child care facilities skilled in helping children to keep their distance. Regular and thorough hand washing is becoming a family occasion as adults join children in handwashing and singing 20-second songs such as “Happy Birthday,” “Baby Shark,” or “Splish Splash.”

Food & Medication. Accessing food and medication without leaving home is a struggle. When possible and appropriate, caregivers are encouraged to leave children at home and use early hour access to stores reserved for persons with special needs. Some food assistance may be provided by schools and by child care and senior care centers. Pharmacies are also making it cheaper and easier to get prescriptions delivered during the pandemic. If you need help with food and medical assistance programs, reach out to 211 for more information.

Technology & Staying Connected. Internet access is important to get current up-to-date information and for students learning at home. Unfortunately, some older caregivers don’t use the internet and may not have electronic devices. There is a need to provide training to grandfamilies and share information about how to access free and low-cost internet and electronics.

Caregiving, Health, & Well-being

Visits with Birth Parents. Grandfamily caregivers are fearful of violating court agreements. They are also concerned about the increased risk of exposure to the virus that in-person visits can bring. The courts and child welfare systems have provided little guidance. Grandfamilies need more information.

Talking with Children & Youth about Coronavirus. Children and youth need reassurance and factual, age-appropriate information. The following may help:

Self-Care for Caregivers. The pandemic is stressful. When considering physical health, caregivers can contact their primary care doctor and insurance company to get telemedicine appointments. Local pharmacies can be contacted to get home delivery of prescriptions.

The stress of some families may be compounded by caregivers’ age or chronic illness. It is important to manage anxiety and stress. The following resources may help:

Glenda Clare is the Founder of the Fragile Families Network “It takes MORE than Love” project, a Family Partner Specialist at the Center for Family and Community Engagement, and a former kinship caregiver.