Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, childcare settings were closed as a preventative measure to control the spread of the disease. This had a profound impact on children, families and childcare providers throughout the Country. However, recent government guidance has announced that Schools and Early years settings will reopen.
This guidance focuses on safeguarding the health and wellbeing of children, and how to protect their families and the staff who work with children. There are certain areas outlined as best practices that you will need to consider to ensure your settings and staff are prepared for reopening.
This guide will cover:
Capacity and space management
The importance of communication
Infection prevention and control methods, including cleaning, handwashing and PPE
Groups and cohorts of children
Moving around and use of outdoor space
Additional guidance for adults in childcare settings
As each setting is unique, you will need to exercise judgement in what measures are practical and safe for the children, parents/carers and staff in attendance. Also, these measures must not contravene health and safety legislation for your setting.
Furthermore, each setting must remain up to date with their State government guidance and other relevant sector bodies.
What is covid 19?
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the coronavirus disease identified in 2019
Common signs of infection include:
Loss of appetite
Shortness of breath
Muscle aches and pains
In more severe cases, it can cause pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, multi-organ failure and death.
COVID-19 is spread through microscopic droplets from an infected person’s respiratory system, produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, but also when they talk, sing or breathe heavily.
There are two ways that COVID-19 can spread: directly and indirectly.
Directly: being in close contact with an infected person (within two metres) where infected respiratory droplets can enter the body via inhalation or via the eyes, mouth or nose. The risk of transmission also increases the longer someone is in close contact or proximity with an infected person.
Indirectly: by touching a surface or object that has been contaminated by infected respiratory droplets, and then touching your own eyes, mouth or nose. Touching an infected person’s hand or face is also included in this type of transmission.
The best preventative measures to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 include:
- Keeping at least 2 metres away from those who are not from your household,
- Not touching your eyes, nose or mouth with dirty hands.
- Frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially once you’ve been outside
covering your mouth and nose with a tissue, your sleeve or using the crook of your elbow when you cough or sneeze
wearing a nose and mouth covering whenever possible when in populated areas, such as shops or public transport.
All managers and staff in childcare settings should be familiar with the most up to date COVID-19 guidance before service recommences.
Guidance should be accessed online whenever possible and checked regularly for any updated information or advice.
We will discuss next, specific measures for childcare settings in order to keep children, their families and your staff safe.
Risk assessments & Staff Wellbeing
Risks assessments are individual to each setting. Managers should consider all risks identified in respect of COVID-19 in order for appropriate measures to be put in place to protect everyone in the setting.
- Controlling risks to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 by adapting usual practices.
- having a procedure for any suspected cases of COVID-19 in your setting.
- Staff and parents should be made aware of the risk assessment. This includes staff who are not in direct contact with the children, such as catering or cleaning staff.
- Extra considerations should be made if settings share their premises or facilities, including considering potential implications of other services’ operating model, maintaining physical distancing and arrangements for outdoor spaces.
In addition, there are some vulnerable groups that are more susceptible to COVID-19.
- Staff should be individually risk assessed for appropriate or reasonable adjustments to be made, this also covers if staff live in a household with a vulnerable group or someone who is shielding.
Vulnerable groups can include:
- those with underlying health conditions and disabilities;
- those over 70 years of age
those who are pregnant
- Child protection arrangements should be reviewed to ensure children with complex needs or disabilities, and vulnerable and disadvantaged children are being suitably supported.
- Clinically vulnerable and clinically extremely vulnerable children should not return to childcare settings, and should continue to be shielded and supported at home as much as possible.
You can discuss suitable courses of action with your school authority or other providers of support services.
Supporting Staff Wellbeing: As childcare settings reopen, staff wellbeing must be protected.
When making adjustments to your setting, a consideration should be given to evacuation procedures, i.e. in the event of a fire or other incident. This must be included as part of the risk assessment.
altering the layout of the facilities; circulation and navigation routes; entry and/or exit points These adjustments need to be taken into consideration when establishing evacuation routes as there may need to be changes to pre-existing procedures.
Meeting points will also need to be considered to ensure sufficient physical distancing is maintained as much as practicably possible between staff and cohorts from the setting. Staff should reassure and comfort children if they are upset during this process.
Capacity and Space managements:
The COVID-19 public health measures have an impact on the capacity of people in childcare settings.
Changes to the physical layout and space and staffing approaches can affect the number of children that can be safely provided for in the setting.
Also, to minimise interactions with others, it is recommended that children’s seats are separated as far apart as possible.
It may be necessary that a temporary cap on numbers of children attending childcare settings will have to be implemented.
If necessary, setting should prioritise:
- vulnerable children
children of critical and frontline workers
children who will be transitioning to school;
- settings should also ensure that children have enough space when indoors:
children under 2 years require 3.5 m² per child (ENGLAND)
2 year olds require 2.5 m² per child
children aged 3 to 5 years require 2.3 m² per child.
Childcare settings should have sufficient space available to ensure cohorts are not in close contact – which is 2 metres away from another group of children wherever practicable and appropriate. Providers should assess what the setting’s capacity is with these changes by looking at floor space, number of rooms, circulation space, outdoor space, distance between groups, and access to toilets and sinks.
The physical capacity of the setting may be affected by public health measures, which means providers should review how many children they can safely accommodate while meeting these requirements.
- having smaller cohorts of children
- ensuring minimal contact between these cohorts of children
- ensuring physical distancing for all adults at the setting
- enhanced hygiene practices
The staffing capacity of the setting may be affected by public health measures due to staff needing to:
-ensure cohorts remain separate;
-accompany children to the toilet;
-clean equipment and objects more frequently
-monitor and support children’s hygiene habits
-cover breaks, holidays and absences (including staff who need to self-isolate)
Opening Hours; Communication & Parental Partnership:
for example, settings should consider what opening hours meet public health measures and the needs of parents, while taking into consideration physical and staffed capacity.
All changes that will be made to the setting should be communicated with staff, parents, providers and all stakeholders.
This ensures that they are aware of the revised arrangements and understand any new routines or procedures that will need to be followed prior to children returning to the setting.
This includes guidance to ensure:
- parents are advised to keep children with any COVID-19 symptoms at home
- parents are advised to keep any children who have someone in their household with any COVID-19 symptoms at home
- staff who display COVID-19 symptoms do not attend work
- staff who have someone in their household with any COVID-19 symptoms should not attend work
- Anyone who displays COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive to having COVID-19 should self-isolate for 7 days.
- Those who have come into contact with someone who is symptomatic should self-isolate for 14 days.
In addition, any continual communication between staff and families about the children in your care should also be considered. For example, replacing face-to-face communication with WhatsApp, Emails, video messaging, phone calls, text messages and photographs.
But it is important that the NCDC regulations should be adhered to, and updating your privacy policies where necessary should be considered.
Emergency contacts should also be confirmed and updated.
Another consideration to be made is how the COVID-19 pandemic will:
‘have had a unique impact on each child and their family, as well as themselves and their colleagues at work.’
The child and their interests should continue to be at the centre of your practice, and staff should support both children and parents/carers regarding the necessary changes to adhere to public health measures.
The level of quality and care of your setting should remain unchanged, and continue to be delivered.
Before reopening, supervisors must inform SUBEB of their updated operational status. They must also notify the ES in the event of any confirmed or suspected outbreaks of COVID-19.
Early Years’ Supervisor should contact parents/carers to ensure they have the correct contact details in the case of emergency.
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©, September, 2020