Let’s not forget about grandparents when we ask if it’s safe to send our kids back to school

 In English, News

There are 12 homes on my block. Two of them are owned by grandparents who are in charge of caring for their grandkids before and after school. Five mornings a week, they feed them breakfast and take them to school. Later, they pick them up, get them an early dinner and help with the homework.

My block isn’t the exception. Not only are more grandparents living with their children and grandkids, there are more kids living with their grandparents with no middle generation, i.e. parents present in these ‘skip-generation’ households.

The Vanier Institute released a study last year showing that this is particularly prevalent among immigrant families who account for a quarter of Canada’s overall population, but more than half of all homes with three generations of members.

This shift in family living arrangements has obvious challenges in normal times. But in pandemic times, they can become matters of life and death. After all, seniors are the most at-risk group both for being infected by COVID-19 and for succumbing to it.

In the weeks ahead, as their grandkids march off to school where they are exposed to hundreds of other kids, grandparents can be exposed to entirely new levels of risk. (They can also be exposed to risk from the rising number of young adults, aged 20 to 29 who are now living at home and heading back to university and college).

Yet, in the torrent of media coverage of the risks of sending our kids to school, virtually no one is talking about the risks that these kids present to their grandparents. Especially their grand-parents who are acting in loco parentis, in place of their parents.

How do we ensure what happens to the millions of Canadian seniors living at home do not suffer the same fate of those in retirement homes?

One way is to stop ‘forgetting’ about our seniors who happen to make up fastest-growing segment of Canada’s population.

It’s a tragic and enduring reality that when people become old, they also become invisible. I’d suggest it’s this invisibility that led to so many needless deaths in retirement residences in the early days of COVID-19.

So if you’re having the conversation about the risks your kids face in going back to school, don’t forget about the risks their grandparents face – which are much much greater.

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