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Covid-19 latest information and updates for the ECE Sector in New Zealand

This is the page to go to for the latest information and updates for the ECE Sector in New Zealand

News flash: 23 March 2020.  The Government has announced all ECE services are to close, with children of essential workers only able to attend until Wednesday evening. All children to remain home for at least 4 weeks. It shows how quickly things can change - that just last week the government was saying it was safe for children to be in ECE, and now it it has recognised that is not safe.   

Funding will not be cut or clawed back. Funding will continue to arrive while closed. This will be a huge relief to all early childhood service providers, staff, and families. It will ensure the sustainability of services and ability to re-open when we come through this. 

WHAT THE ECE SECTOR THINKS 

The results of the Early Childhood Sector are now available. Go to: Survey Reveals Covid-19 risks cannot be well managed in Early Childhood Education  The announcement to close is what the ECE sector thinks will be best. The sacrifice now will save making a bigger sacrifice later and potentially being closed for months. Online learning or providing distance education for children, as the survey showed, is not considered appropriate for under-5s.  Ability for staff to work remotely, without children, was considered to be largely a ridiculous recommendation, apart from providing an opportunity to do admin and professional written work at home. 

CARE OF THE CHILDREN OF ESSENTIAL WORKERS

Some ECE providers are set to receive a possible financial windfall to provide babysitting for the children (0 – 14 years) of essential workers during the 4-week lockdown. Find out more about this and how your service can be involved. > Find out here

What does this mean for the income of ECE educators providing the care (who will be working and ineligible for the wage subsidy), their safety and the safety of their own children and family members?  > Find out here

EMPLOYMENT AND WAGES Q&A

When we get through the lockdown, we could see staff raising personal grievances. Don't let your service be one of those that finds itself in the employment court. Instead, get sorted now and act legally and in good faith. To begin getting sorted, you can find answers and read discussion all in one place on questions such as:

  • Can an ECE service drop the wages of staff to 80% or lower, or not pay staff during the lockdown?
  • How do staff know their employer isn’t double-dipping – asking staff to forgo their normal wages and pocketing the wage subsidy from WINZ?
  • Can relievers and home-based educators who are self-employed or contractors receive their usual income during the lock-down?
  • What about support for teachers who have gone from permanent work to relieving very recently?
  • What if the ECE service just can’t continue to pay wages to staff because there is no work? 
  • Can ECE Services require staff to use their sick leave?
  • Can ECE services require staff to use their annual leave?
  • Is there a work from home expectation for staff who continue to be paid?
  • When working at home or off-site can an employee claim for expenses?
  • Are ECE services, relievers and home-based educators required to show they are providing distance education for children to get the wage subsidy?
  • What financial support is available to ECE services?

> Go to the employment and wages Q&A 

SHOULD ECE SERVICES CONTINUE TO COLLECT FEES FROM FAMILIES, INCLUDING 20 HOURS ECE OPTIONAL CHARGES?

Go to a post on this topic 

 

UPDATES AS THEY HAPPEN
17/03/2020 - 8pm Ministry of Education emails a newsletter to providers of ECE services with a link to its new coronavirus FAQ, informing also that it is looking into relaxing adult-child ratio requirements (so potentially more children to fewer adults) and further relaxing qualification requirements so that a service need not have a qualified teacher present as a 'person responsible'. It reminded service providers that while there is a requirement on paper that 50% of the teaching staff need to hold an ECE qualification, in practice these people do not need to be working on the floor with children (NOTE:  It is odd that in the FAQ the Ministry flagged a possibility of reducing standards. It may be seeing this as an opportunity to pave the way to make it easier for centres to let go of qualified staff to save on staffing costs, and make greater use of other people such as cooks and admin staff and any available adult providing the adult is police vetted and safety checked to be teachers and run centres. However, any reduction in standards would not be in the interests of health and safety. It would also be against the Early Learning Action Plan intentions to improve ratios and the proportion of qualified and certificated teachers).  
18/03/2020 - 5.49am TVNZ reports that the Kiwifruit industry is offering work to those whose jobs have been impacted by the coronavirus. (Note that a qualified ECE teacher could earn $23.50 or more an hour kiwifruit picking - which is higher than the rates that the Ministry of Education sets that employers must pay their qualified and certificated teachers in return for receiving funding).
18/03/2020 - 8.30am Dr Sarah from ChildForum advises parents to ensure their child's immunisations are up-to-date. This will help minimise the chance that medical attention is needed during a period when the health system is swamped dealing with coronavirus. 
18/03/2020 - We are waiting for confirmation on whether training providers will continue with plans to send students out to ECE services for their course required teaching practicums.
19/03/2020 - There are now 28 Covid-19 cases in NZ. There is at this time, no evidence of community transmission of the virus in NZ.
20/03/2020 - Chinese Early Childhood Teachers in NZ have prepared an open letter.  To read it and add your support go to the letter here.
20/03/2020 - NZ's borders are now closed to everyone except citizens and residents. 
23/03/2020 - All ECE services to close except for the children of essential workers
25/03/2020 - Every service closed - NZ goes into lockdown 


Names of early childhood services closed in NZ

Week starting 16 March 2020
 A few Playcentres (parent-run centres) have decided voluntarily not to operate sessions out of concern that meeting might aid the spread of coronavirus. 

Week starting 23 March 2020
The NZ government placed the country under lockdown on 25 March 2020 - this included compulsory closure of all ECE services. 

 

Covid 19 NZ ECE poster

A rundown on everything you need to know 

Dr Sarah Alexander 
Early Childhood Expert and CEO of ChildForum

17 March 2020

Contents

  1. Voluntary and compulsory closure of services
  2. Will funding dry-up?
  3. Will revenue from parent fees drop?
  4. Likely financial impacts
  5. The Government's financial support package
  6. What about paying staff and keeping staff on?
  7. Home-based ECE contractors
  8. Regulations to prevent and limit the transmission of infectious diseases in ECE environments and reporting an ECE service that does not comply
  9. Placing children in the position of being part of large gatherings and contact with constantly changing people - can your service avoid this?
  10. What other practices should services review and improve to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading? 

No child 0 - 9 years has been known to have died from the coronavirus and it appears from the data that children are a lot less susceptible to the virus than other age groups. Children who have contracted Covid-19 tend to display mild symptoms and are less likely to require hospitalisation. The virus is rare among children but young children can contract Covid-19 and children tend to interact with a great number of people which increases the risk of transmission in the community.

Children with the virus may show no symptoms. Around half or less than half of children will have a fever.Children who have contracted Covid-19 usually also have a family member or close contact who is infected. 

According to the World Health Organisation "The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell." (9 March 2020 Q&A from the WHO Newroom)

 

1. Closure of services due to Covid-19

Voluntary
A service may voluntarily choose to close. It may be that the service provider feels this is a necessary step to protect the health of NZ's population.  There are two things to consider here:

  1. Young children are less susceptible to the disease
  2. Who will then care for children?  Grandparents, elderly neighbours and retirees in the community may be people that are left caring for children while parents work. So children and the elderly may be safer if children are in ECE. 

Compulsory  
All early childhood services and schools across NZ or within an identified region may receive instructions to close and not reopen until further notice. An individual service may be instructed to close if there is a suspected or confirmed case involving a child, an adult at the service, or a person that has had recent contact with either an adult or child at the service? If it does not comply, the service would not only be putting children's and adult's health at risk, it would also risk having its licence suspended or cancelled. 

Advice for Parents
What should parents do if there is a suspected or confirmed case involving a child, an adult at the service, or a person that has had recent contact with either an adult or child at the service?  First, the service would have been in contact with their regional officer of health and be told what measures to take. Therefore, parents should follow whatever their ECE service tells them. Second, parents should additionally follow their own instinct. If the service remains operational but they are concerned about their child or the risks of transmission, then they should take the precautions they feel are needed.

The key message is:  Safety comes first.  If unwell, stay home.

 

2. Will funding dry up? 

Child absence
The service may continue to claim funding for the child who is absent due to self-isolation or other reasons for up to 3 weeks, providing the parent has not notified the service that the child will not be coming back. 

Emergency closure
Protocol is already in place for the Ministry of Education to continue to fund early childhood services when there is a health emergency.  Normally this is a short-term arrangement for a few days. However it is expected that the Ministry of Education will continue to fund all schools and early childhood services and that it will do so for however long it takes before they can be re-opened, and especially since the World Health Organisation has declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic.

To ensure funding continuity, service providers need to contact their regional office of the Ministry of Education at the first available opportunity and the ministry will supply a letter confirming or not confirming that the service has a case for emergency closure. 

 

3. Will revenue from parent fees drop? 

When the service is closed
Unless a service can provide for the care and education of a child in some other way e.g. online learning, it does not a have a case to continue to charge parents' fees when the service is closed. 

When child/ family is in self-isolation and the service is not closed
Fees may continue to be charged during the time that the child is absent, depending on the fees policy of the individual service. 

 

4. Likely financial impacts

We don't know how long the Covid-19 shock that is running through the economy will last.

  1. Some people (this includes parents and staff working in ECE) will lose their jobs or have their hours reduced, especially in tourist locations such as Rotorua and Queenstown.  Parents may take their children out of ECE because either (a) they can't afford to continue to pay fees when they are not earning or when they have reduced earnings, or (b) to save money.
  2. Even people who won't lose their job may take their child out of ECE and find a way to keep their child at home, just as a precaution.
  3. The impact may be greater on small community and not-for-profit ECE services that do not have cash-reserves to fall back on and do not have other assets that can be used as collateral to apply for a bank loan.

Look at the government assistance package and see what might help your service business and employees.

If your service is worried about finances, you should be talking with a banker now.

If your ECE service becomes stuck for finance before your service's next bulk-funding payment, NZ Childcare Finance might be able to help. 

If your service is struggling financially, talk with the Ministry of Education and let them know what financial position your service is in before it gets too late to save it. 

 

5. The Government's financial support package

The Government's wage subsidy scheme will see employers receiving up to $150,000 per business to keep staff on - comprising of up to $585 per full-time staff member and $385 per part-time employee. Any business (including ECE services) that can show a 30 percent decline in revenue for any month between January and June, when compared with the same month last year, will be eligible to apply.
NOTE: It is unlikely that many ECE services will suffer at least a 30 percent decline in revenue, unless there is a dramatic drop in revenue gained from fees, because funding should remain fairly constant.

A new sick leave scheme will enable workers or contractors who need to self-isolate for the required 14 days because of coronavirus receiving up to the same amount as above. It will also pay out the entire sickness period for anyone infected with Covid-19.
NOTE:  home-based educators would have a case to apply for this if they are unable to undertake to their work from home.

Employers are still expected to meet employment obligations, including around sick leave (see Section 6 below).

 

6. What about paying staff and keeping staff on?

Continuing to pay employees
Employees who are able to work must be paid in full for each day, even if there is no work for them to do.  An employer can not defer payment of wages or salary unless the employee agrees.  It is the right of the employee to decide not to agree to deferment but to request payment as per usual of their wage or salary.

While an employee may not be able to attend the workplace, it may be practicable for the teacher or employee to continue working from home. For example, technology can be used for staff meetings and video-conferencing to write and revise annual plans, procedures and policies.  Teachers may work at home during work-hours on writing Learning Stories and preparing resources for children.
NOTE: An employer's obligations to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for staff still applies whether it is a centre or the employee's own home (therefore be sure to talk through and identify possible and actual hazards and document how these will be managed). 

Employers are not responsible to pay employees who self-isolate and cannot do work from home (See above on the new sick leave scheme as part of the Government's funding support package).

Staff who are not sick cannot be made to use their sick leave. Employers may offer other special paid leave.   

Redundancies
Should there continue to be no work and the service is therefore over-staffed the employer may look at making staff redundant (learn more about the process for making positions redundant and employer obligations). But because we don't know how long the situation will last (China is already beginning to return back to normal with factories running, etc) the last thing an employer generally wants to do is to lose good staff!  Those good staff might well not come back and may relatively easily find another job in ECE or outside of ECE.

 

7.  Contractors

People who work for a Home-Based ECE service as a contractor and are reliant on income from families are likely to have a strong case to make individual or collective claims to the government for income-support. They do not have job security and benefits such as paid sick leave that an employee has under NZ employment law. Home-based agencies who are caring will look at what they can do to help and provide support. For example, could it pass on funding to the educator that is received from the Ministry during the period that children are absent?   

 

8. Regulations to prevent and limit the transmission of infectious diseases in ECE environments and reporting a service that does not comply

To hold a licence to operate, early childhood services must follow the Education (Early Childhood Services) regulations to prevent and limit the transmission of infectious diseases.

For ECE services that are fully complying with regulations to prevent the spread of any infectious disease, nothing much needs to change in health practices. 

Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that a service has good health and hygiene practices and is fully compliant.  If it is not, then you have a responsibility to speak up and report the service. Find out about reporting a service, go to: https://www.myece.org.nz/report-early-childhood-education-service

 

handwashing in early childhood education

9. Placing children and staff in the position of being part of large gatherings and contact with changing people - can your service avoid this?

NZ workplaces are being advised to take basic measures such as removing magazines from lunch rooms and reception areas, and provide staff with protective gear if required. Older students in schools are being advised to create a physical distance between themselves and other students, for example instead of siting beside another student, leave a spare seat between. Workers are being advised to stay at least a metre away from others, and to replace meetings with phone calls, video conferencing or email contact.

But when in the business of caring for young children, a lot of the advice is just not practicable.

Children will have close contact with each other in their play. Caregiving of young children involves close contact.

In the early childhood sector workers are at greater risk than workers in many other industries, because its impossible to follow advice to create a physical distance - keeping a metre apart and avoiding touch.  

There is one thing that every early childhood service can do however, which is to manage the number of other people that any child comes in contact with.  This means for example:

  • Cancelling or postponing large group events that bring in other children, adults, and family members (some high schools for example have cancelled parent-teacher interview evenings)
  • Not using a relief teacher who goes around different early childhood services
  • Calling on the same relief teacher where possible each time your service needs a reliever
  • Setting and implementing policy for maximum group sizes.  Restricting movement of children and adults between classes/ groups
  • Not sharing teachers and unqualified teaching staff and other people who may come in contact with children between services within your organisation. 
  • Ensuring that children from the same family are cared for where possible within the same group or room at the service. 

  

10. What other practices should services review and improve to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading? 

Hand washing and drying
It’s easy to forget to use soap and rub hands thoroughly, including the backs of the hands, wrists, between fingers and nails. A good hand wash involves creating friction by rubbing the hands together with soap. Having soapy hands encourages children to keep their hands under water for longer to get the soap off. Drying is important too!

Check:

  1. Is there always enough soap available at every basin or wash facility to ensure no one misses out on using soap? Can each child comfortably reach the dispenser for the liquid soap when washing their hands? (Health wise, it doesn’t matter if it is anti-bacterial soap or not).
  2. Is there an ample supply of towels to ensure these do not run out during the day?  (Cloth towels should be used only once before laundering or supply paper towels).
  3. Is it time to call in a plumber and install another wash basin(s)?  Only having the minimum required of 1 basin to every 15 people is not best practice to reduce infection. At snack and meal-times you may have a queue of people waiting (20 seconds washing per person X 15 people = up to 5 minutes wait time, and more because hands need to be dried too).  Providing a shared bowl/s of water for children to wash their hands in, is not an adequate or safe solution.
  4. Are adults observing each child’s hand washing, before eating, after toilet use, after blowing/ touching their nose, and after playing outside, and are the adults giving children fun and gentle reminders to wash hands when a child forgets or doesn’t wash properly?
  5. Are adults who are changing children’s nappies, having children wash their hands too?

Reducing and eliminating the sharing of saliva and droplets from coughing and the nose
Help children to keep their faces clean. If a child has snot on their face, use a clean wet cloth immediately to clean the child's face and wash your and the child's hands. Don't use the same cloth twice. 

Infants should have their faces and hands frequently washed because they are always putting their hands in their mouths no matter what. 

Frequently wiping and cleaning surfaces, table tops, chairs, door handles and toys that children touch will help protect them too. 

Gloves when changing nappies 
The hygiene practices of adults who wear gloves when changing children’s nappies are as important as the practices of adults who don’t wear gloves. Gloves can give a false sense of security.  Any object or surface that is touched with a gloved hand can risk contamination.  An adult who has bare hands may be more aware of the risks.

Faeces
There is some medical evidence that the virus may be present in stools. As a precaution when a child has runny pooh, use disposable rather than cloth nappies. And note that, cloth nappies should not be washed in the same machine that washes tea towels and other linen. Services should not use the same nappies for different children - i.e. cloth nappies should be named and only used for the named child.   

Physical contact
Children need affection and cuddles. There is no reason, for adults who are not showing any symptoms of the coronavirus not to have physical contact with children.  Any person who suspects they may be at risk or who is showing symptoms should follow the medical advice in contacting health authorities and self-isolate.

Encouraging persistence in hand washing
Advice the Ministry of Education gave to ECE service providers (which it has now retracted) was to sing songs such as the following with children while washing their hands for 20 seconds: ‘Love on Top’ 💋by Beyoncé, ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac, ‘Raspberry Beret’ by Prince, ‘Jolene’ by Dolly Parton👩‍🎤, ‘Africa’ by Toto, and even ‘Truth Hurts’ by Lizzo. An early learning goal which the Ministry needs to achieve before advising ECE service providers, is: "To gain a basic knowledge of some ECE appropriate songs".  How about songs such as “this is the way we wash our hands”, “twinkle twinkle little star”, “the wheels on the bus”, or "Old MacDonald”?  Use hand washing to practice counting 1 - 10 and 1 - 10 again. Some children may already be able to count up to 20.   

Teaching and Learning
Setting up an iPad on the bathroom wall or a device to play a happy hand washing video may sound like a strange idea – but give it a go – you might see children spending longer in the bathroom if its a happier place to be, and maybe therefore not rush as much when washing their hands!  The Wiggles have a lovely video and song which you could set to replay.  After wetting hands and putting on liquid soap, then the Wiggles count to 15 to time the rubbing action with hands - see the Wiggles Video on YouTube    

Once a child gets into the swing of hand washing properly, the child may then be a role model for other children and support younger peers and peers who are learning. 

Talking of bathrooms that children want to be in ...

Now might be the time to do a review of the children's wash and toileting areas. Has the ECE service got it right when it comes to design, aesthetics in the bathroom and providing children with privacy for personal comfort when using the toilet?

> Go to a research article on this topic to assist your service's review 

 

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