By Dr S Alexander
May 2012, latest update June 2018
In May 2012, a Northland Childcare Centre was publicly slammed when it decided to send home an HIV-positive child. The centre was criticised by the AIDS Foundation and the story made the national news over several days. The centre claimed its exclusion of the child was temporary only while it sought information about HIV and how it should care for the child.
ChildForum published the following article and provided information to early childhood services in our network around the country. It was exciting to see the sector taking this on board and demonstrating better understanding and a higher level of knowledge.
But in June 2018 a new company, Evolve Education, was alleged to have acted in a discriminatory way toward a staff member who is HIV-positive. It is part of the Early Childhood Council business lobby.
It is reported by Stuff.co.nz that the Evolve corporation sacked a West Coast early childhood centre manager just before her 90th day in the job following her decision to disclose her HIV status to colleagues. Evolve produced a letter to inform parents about the manager's HIV status, along with its child illness policy and a pamphlet on HIV. Evolve also sent teachers out to the homes of the children with some door-knocked as late as 8pm with a letter." The manager told Stuff: "the reaction and response to my disclosure from Evolve Education has been stigma, discrimination, intimidation and bullying". "I have been named and shamed, excluded in any input of on how to inform parents or if they even needed to be at this stage." "The child illness policy with this letter would have scared them because it implies I could make their children sick". The letter is reported to have gone viral within the community and a parent from a school "came in and went ballistic."
In an Auckland Herald newspaper article Evolve's chief executive said he was unaware of the company doing the same when an employee had any other illness. The manager "told the Herald losing the job she loved left her feeling like 'a modern day leper'. But Evolve's chief executive believed it was necessary for it to respond how it did and tell parents her medical details because of 'danger' and 'fear'.
Children and the Education Regulations
It is less common today to come across a child who has HIV. Thanks to advances in medical treatment, mothers with HIV are much less likely to pass this on to their newborn and tight controls are imposed over who can donate blood. The fact that HIV is now less common means that when early childhood service providers and educators come in contact with a child who has HIV or AIDS they may have little understanding and knowledge of it. Not knowing about HIV/AIDS and how to care for a child with HIV or AIDs puts everyone at risk of being hurt in some way. This can be avoided if adults are well-informed. A child with HIV or AIDS is not any different from any other child and should be treated with respect, love and provided a safe environment.
HIV is not listed in the early childhood service licensing regulations and criteria as a disease or condition for which a child should be excluded. Early childhood services must not limit contact of HIV-positive children with other children.
Special or different care health practices are not expected since standard precautions for infection control should be in place to a high level in an early childhood service in any case.
It is illegal in NZ to discriminate based on HIV status under the Human Rights Act.
Early childhood education staff are not legally required to disclose their HIV status to their employer.
If they do disclose the employer has to take all reasonable steps to protect the staff member from harassment at work. The employer has to make every effort and adjustment to ensure the staff member is not disadvantaged at work so the staff member is able to do their job properly.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act bullying is an identified hazard. Employers are accountable and should not bully or take actions that result in staff being bullied.
Keep reading the rest of this article to learn more about:
- What HIV and AIDS is and developing your understanding of these terms and conditions.
- Disclosure and confidentiality requirements.
- Excluding a child and terminating enrolment.
- Dealing with fear and ignorance.
- Ensuring a safe environment for all children in your care.
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