Just because we can, should we?
Like thousands of others around the country I prepared to watch the Prime Minister’s address on Sunday evening with a mix of anticipation and trepidation. I finished watching with a mix of anxiety and confusion. There was also a fair amount of irritation arising from the lack of immediate availability of guidance to flesh out the ‘recovery plan’. We had to wait until 2pm on Monday for that and with it came even further confusion. In spite of the guidance advising Early Years settings, and primary school year groups of Reception, Year One and Year Six to prepare for opening from 1st June, the statement on page 26 of the plan that said, ‘The Government is also amending its guidance to clarify that paid childcare, for example nannies and childminders, can take place subject to being able to meet the public health principles at Annex A, because these are roles where working from home is not possible. This should enable more working parents to return to work’, threw the childminding workforce into disarray. Did this mean Childminders should be opening from this week or from 1st June along with the rest of the childcare sector, and since when did Childminders not work from their own homes?
Fortunately, both PACEY and the Early Years Alliance were on the spot and able to obtain confirmation from the DfE that Childminders should be preparing to open from 1st June along with other Early Years settings, and not immediately; a point also made by the Prime Minister in his speech to Parliament yesterday afternoon. It would appear that the author of ‘’OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy’’ misunderstood the role of a Childminder or used the incorrect term in error, perhaps intending it to mean ‘Home Childcarers’ who do provide care in the child’s home.
Since this initial guidance the Government have gone on to release a number of sector specific documents giving further details of what might be involved in the reopening process, such as who will be eligible to attend schools and settings and what measures should be in place, as well as guidance for parents on what to expect (see below).
As with all the guidance and documentation coming out at the moment it has been written in haste but with good intention. There are errors and inconsistencies which are to be expected in the circumstances. In places it is as clear as a muddy puddle and certainly open to interpretation. However, critique it as we may, it’s all we have to work on at present, though no doubt there will be numerous updates and additions over the coming weeks.
So where do we go from here?
As I said in the title, just because we can, should we? Although there is provision within the Corona Virus Act 2020 to enforce opening of registered childcare settings this does not apply to Childminders, who have been specifically excluded from this element of the legislation. Childminders have a choice. There is no single answer to the question of whether to be open or not, or to open for some children but not all, as every setting is unique and so will have to make a decision based on many factors. This blog is aimed primarily at Childminders but many of these factors are relevant to all settings. This list is not exhaustive:
A large number of headteachers, teachers, childcare managers, staff, Childminders and parents have made it very clear on social media and via the news media that they strongly believe it is far too soon for children to be returning to school and childcare, and that the age groups selected are the wrong ones, believing the focus should be on those older children who are approaching exams and who are able to follow social distancing practices.
People are rightly fearful of the risk of infection and a potential ‘second spike’. Too little is known about the transmission of the coronavirus to be sure that allowing young children to mix in numbers is safe. Although it is known that children are less likely to transact Covid-19 and that if they do, their symptoms are more likely to be mild. Government have cited this a one of the reasons why they believe it is going to be safe for children to return. What about the adults caring for those children though, or the adults bringing and collecting the children given that far less is known about children’s role as carriers and their transmission of the disease to others? Is it safe for these adults to be mixing? The government guidance freely admits that social distancing between young children is not possible, but it is also not possible for the adults caring for these children. Young children NEED physical contact to feed their emotional well-being, in the same way that they need to eat to feed their physical being. They need hugs and cuddles, comfort and tears wiping (and snotty noses and pooey bottoms!). These are requirements of healthy development and cannot be denied. Osfted have made a number of suggestions on their Facebook ‘Childcare Registration’ page as to how settings might manage some of the challenges, most are quite reasonable but this one stands out as particularly unhelpful:
‘’Reducing the number of people you come into contact with at work; if you are a nanny, not mixing with other nannies and household members, if you are a childminder, not allowing other household members to come into your childcare space’’
Given that the 'childcare space' is the whole house (registered premises) obviously this would be unfeasible, but even if a Childminder only uses downstairs how can they tell their partners and children they cannot move around freely in their own homes, especially given the restrictions already being placed on them. If the childminder has young children of their own this is obviously impossible. Even with older children or a separate playroom it is problematic
Childcare settings are opening to enable parents to return to work, but should providers be accepting children if their parents are at home? The guidance for workers remains unchanged and says that they should continue to work at home if possible and only travel to their workplace if they cannot work at home. For some parents though, working whilst caring for a small child is not easy, and often impossible. In these situations, it would be entirely appropriate to accept these children into the setting. If the parent is successfully managing their work-child balance there is no obligation for them to change this, especially as attendance at an Early Years setting is not a legal requirement. Government are keen however that parents take up the opportunity to send eligible children to school and are strongly encouraging this, but even so, have not made it compulsory.
In addition to fears around getting the virus there is also understandable resentment around the logic of it being suitable to accept unrelated children into the Childminder’s home and to have direct contact with their parents but not be able to see their own grown-up children or their grandchildren, due to social distancing rules. For parents who have previously relied on grandparents to provide children there is similar resentment. The government argue that grandparents are at increased risk due to age, but not all are over 70, and many may not even be in their 50s yet.
Before going forward and making any firm decisions regarding opening, Childminders will need to talk to their families first to make sure they have their backing, before then discussing the options with their minded families. They also need to think about themselves and their own mental and physical health. Do they feel ready and able to go back?
If the childminder decides to proceed, they will need to address any concerns the parents and children may have. They will need to update policies, procedures and contracts to cover any changes they are implementing, such as doorstep and sickness policies and think about how best to communicate these to parents, including getting them signed. They will need to ensure their child record details, including emergency contacts are updated and gather new starting point or ‘all about me’ information about the children – a lot will have changed in 11 weeks. They should ask questions about how the children have been affected by the lock down. For some children it may have been a very traumatic experience, and some may have lost loved ones to the virus.
Before reopening the setting, Childminders will need to think about how they can adapt their space, organisation and routines in order to fulfil guidance on hygiene and distancing.
The first step will be a risk assessment, remembering that it is about minimising risk rather than eliminating it, as the latter is simply not possible. It is also about balancing children’s needs against safety.
Things to consider include:
It’s up to you to decide!
Personally, I am very wary of opening as I am not sure that even by the 1st June it will be safe to do so but I also know that the time may never feel right or at least not for a long time anyway. Coronavirus is not disappearing any time soon and might never go away completely. Government are working towards a principle of slowed down infection rates whilst possible herd immunity builds and a vaccine is developed, but these are unknown factors and cannot be relied on. We have to go back to work sometime, we cannot afford not to. This will not be work as we have known it in the past but some form of normal will emerge.
I am still considering my options, keeping dialogue open with my families and awaiting further government guidance. I’m sure there will be many more late-night updates over the weeks to come.
Watch this space!
Guidance for settings:
Guidance for parents:
The recovery plan…
Where I have talked about settings going back, opening or reopening, this is not to assume all settings have been closed. I am using these terms to refer to settings that have been open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children who will be opening to a wider range of children as well as those who have been fully closed and are reopening for the first time.
My name is Rebecca.