Grandparents reported feeling disconnected and isolated from their children and grandchildren during the COVID restrictions imposed during 2020.
In two surveys conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies during each half of 2020, three out of 10 grandparents said that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, they provided childcare to their grandchildren at least weekly. Of those grandparents, 14% of respondents with grandchildren aged under 13 years provided child care daily or several times a week, another 16% provided child care about once a week and around half provided care at least once per month.
Grandparent care and care for grandparents were most impacted during the pandemic, with respondents reporting that for many families, grandparents did not provide the usual care to their grandchildren for some months during the pandemic. Care for grandchildren ceased because of restrictions imposed on visiting family members or because parents increased their work from home.
Many grandparents reported feeling disconnected from their family and missing out on family traditions during the lockdown period. While some grandparents were able to access technological solutions to connect with family, others found the technology frustrating.
There were 7,306 respondents in the first survey of whom 6,435 completed all survey questions. In the second survey, 4,866 participants responded, of which 3,627 completed all survey questions. Over 80% were female respondents, tertiary-educated, ranging in age from over 18 years to 60+ years who lived either in a capital city, a major regional city or regional area.
Impacts on caring for others
In addition to generalised fears as to how the virus might affect the physical and mental health of family members, the pandemic forced changes to the availability of in-home support services. Caring hours for family members increased significantly over the year for 70% of respondents, nearly half of the respondents saying they spent over 30 hours per week in relation to child care and home schooling, while about 20% of respondents reported spending over 60 hours per week on caring activities which included caring for a parent or a partner.
Respondents also referred to giving assistance to non-household members which could include friends or work colleagues. This could include giving emotional assistance, or providing help with shopping, transport, house or garden maintenance and sometimes financial help.
Community volunteering was also impacted by the pandemic during 2020 in that in many volunteer-reliant charities, older volunteers were restricted in the types of volunteer work they could do and, at the same time, demand for services from charities increased due to the impact of COVID on employment and income.
Community volunteers were more likely to be older people. Survey results showed that over a quarter (27%) of respondents or their partners had engaged in some form of voluntary work in the past year, including half of those aged 70-79, 36% of those living alone, and 40% of those living in remote areas.
Of those who volunteered at some time during 2020, almost two in three (62%) continued to volunteer throughout the year, 20% volunteered before COVID but had yet to return to volunteering, 6% started volunteering after COVID, 4% stopped volunteering during COVID but have returned to volunteering, and 4% volunteered only during COVID. (The remaining 5% is other combinations.)
Report no. 1: Connection to family, friends and community, Families in Australia Survey, May 2021, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/connection-family-friends-community