Last month, the Victorian Government announced the easing of restrictions in Melbourne, enabling early childhood education services to reopen. If you have recently opened your child care centre or are looking to reopen – this guide is for you!
“Strong and regular communication between ECEC service providers and parents about the COVIDSafe Plan at the centre, will play a key role in establishing trust and in helping alleviate any fears or anxiety that parents might have about sending their children to early childhood centres during these difficult times. The Victorian Chief Health Officer has stated that with appropriate health and safety measures in place, ECEC services are low-risk environments, and childcare centres, as they reopen, need to take every conceivable step to ensure that it stays that way and that the children are cared for in a protective environment.” (Maryann James, Head of Department, Community Care, MCIE).
Following these safety procedures and guidelines will assist your centre in minimising:
Children’s separation anxiety
Parents’ fear of returning their children to child care
2. Train your staff
Free, short, accredited training is available to help staff identify and manage the ongoing risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in the workplace.
3. Open communication with staff and families
- It is crucial that your COVIDSafe Plan, along with other health and safety measures, are communicated clearly to the families who may be feeling anxious about bringing their children back to the centre.
- Before opening the centre, staff should be trained on all the preventive actions and procedures that need to be complied with every day, such as hygiene requirements, timely and regular use of disinfectants, and the maximum number of people allowed at a time in a particular place, etc.
- Families should be informed about any new social distancing measures arranged for the safe pick up/drop off of children. If required, display appropriate signage/posters to clearly communicate the health and safety measures you have in place.
4. Ensuring safety in the centre
- Appropriate social distancing is one of the most important safeguards against coronavirus, so plan to keep the children at least 1.5m apart from each other at all times.
- Keep one group of kids separate from another group. This way, kids in one group can play and interact with each other while minimising their close contact with another group. The educator for each group should also stay with the same group throughout the day.
- Teach and encourage children to maintain social distancing, and to regularly wash their hands during the day, particularly between activities and mealtimes. Consider making hygiene activities into fun, incentiv based exercises to get children onboard. Who says the star system is outdated?
- Assign different times to children for pick up and drop off. This staggered manner will ensure limited number of family members coming to the centre at the same time and help with social distancing. You can also direct only one member from each family to come to the centre.
- Reduce the number of toys and other shared equipment in the centre to a more manageable level.
- Place hand sanitisers and/or hand washing stations at the entrance to promote and ensure healthy hand hygiene practices before entering the centre.
- You can also conduct temperature screening before children enter.
- For the safety of your staff as well as the children, provide your staff with personal protective equipment, such as face masks, gloves, and aprons.
5. Plan for an emergency response protocol
In addition to your COVIDSafe Plan and health and safety measures, prepare an emergency response plan, , in case a child develops a fever while in your care, or starts to display any other symptoms. The plan should clearly state the action plan, including isolating the child, informing parents, and disinfecting protocol, etc. This would help with the efficient and accurate communication of information to parents and medical staff, as well as minimising risk to other children and staff present at the centre.
Overcoming the psychological challenges
The pandemic has had an immense impact on the mental wellbeing of educators, staff, parents and children. Understandably, there is some public fear and anxiety around sending children back to child care services. Here are some suggestions for managing the associated mental aspects of reopening your child care centre.
- Consider relaxation activities, such as yoga, meditation and singing, to improve the adaptation process and encourage daily mindfulness.
- Be as flexible as possible; consider shorter days and allow more rests. Remember, the return to a structured environment is a complete change to daily routines for many children and a period of adjustment is to be expected.
- Use this resource to talk to children about the virus. It is important we talk candidly to make them feel involved and to help manage their anxiety.
- Keep parents well informed of the day-to-day running of the centre. Consider sending them an email update every week, with photos/news of what’s happening in the centre, and/or, posting regularly on your social media pages.
The Australian Government is here to financially support your centre
On 20 September, the Education Minister, Dan Tehan, announced a $305.06 million Recovery Package that provides continued support for the childcare sector in Victoria.
This package includes:
- 25% Recovery Payment for child care services
- Additional 15% payment for OSHC services
- Provisions to extend financial support if similar outbreaks occur elsewhere in the country and restrictions come into force
- Extension of the easing of the activity test until 4 April 2021, for families whose activity level has been affected by COVID-19. This allows families to access up to 100 hours of subsidised child care per fortnight
- Support for services at risk of imminent closure where they meet relevant criteria.
Call the department of Education, Skills and Employment on 1300 667 276 for further information about how your centre can benefit from these measures.