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Level 3 Next Week - ECE Special Alert

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UPDATE: 7pm 20th April - the Ministry of Education have just stated that they will (finally) give information on funding and advice on staffing requirements for Alert Level 3 this Wednesday 22nd April

We are in extraordinary times - you are not being selfish if you don’t want your service to open because it is impossible to maintain social distance between children, and between children and adults.

The initial set of rules for services to operate ‘safely’ issued by the Ministry of Education will result in ECE becoming, as I’ve described it: “Drop and Run Daycare” during level-3.

There are without doubt, major safety concerns in ECE which ChildForum has been at the forefront of working on since the pandemic was declared (read more).

However, at level-3 the government will be asking all early childhood teachers, kaiako, and other ECE workers who can, to help by going back to their centres or resuming their role as home-based educators.

It is asking you to do this at level-3 for the sake of supporting businesses that were unable to operate during level-4 to begin to operate again, for the wider good of our economy. 

It is asking you to do this to help minimise the impact on unemployment rates and help parents to keep their jobs. In turn, this will mean that ECE services will continue to be needed and reduce the chance of permanent closures – which is something we all want to avoid!

Hon Carmel Sepuloni told the Epidemic Response Committee (on 9 April 2020) that a concern is how quickly we can get out of the crisis and resume business. The faster usual business can resume, the more likely staff across different sectors and industries will be held on to and will still have a job in a month or six months’ time.

Anyone calling for a blanket ban on ECE services re-opening after the new rules were released, for example because people in their group are opposed to an increase in the minimum licensed indoor space for children from 2.5m per child to at least 3m per child, is not being helpful.

Most ECEs are classified as commercial or community-owned and are not state-owned. So, the choice to open or not is the same for most ECE services as it is for any other private business.

Not all will have children returning during level-3. And, not all will have staff available to provide care, who are not in a vulnerable group or don’t have legitimate safety concerns about returning to the workplace.

If an ECE service is connected to a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, it must close for 72 hours to allow contact tracing, and then potentially for a further 14 days.

It is necessary to move in steps and cautiously.

An answer is not to beg the Ministry of Education to allow centre staff to take children into their homes whilst collecting funding at education and care centre rates or the higher kindergarten rates and not being able to attest to the safety of the homes. That’s not something the ministry would allow.   

So, what can you do?

Responding to level-3 government wishes

At level-3 everyone is required to work from home unless that is not possible. Workplaces can’t open if workers can work from home and if workplaces can’t meet public health requirements. You could find that you have few or no families wanting to return to ECE immediately. In this case, it would not be worth opening.

For parents needing care for their child, talk with them about other possible options if you can’t help them:

  • Level-3 allows for shared and extended bubble arrangements and for other whānau members to enter the child’s previous level-4 bubble, so there might be uncles or aunties or other family members who could help.
  • Perhaps their employer might be open to offering flexible work hours to enable them to share childcare responsibilities with another family member, or perhaps allow them to bring their baby or young child to work if it is safe to do so.
  • There may be (other) home educators or centres in your area that can help for a few days or weeks.

But, if you are feeling ready to open and to meet level-three rules, then why not?

In centres, if there is management support and teacher/s who want to care for these children in a ‘children’s bubble’, then it’s possible.

A ‘children’s bubble’ in a centre cannot be more than ten children – the fewer from different other bubbles (families) the better. Some of these children may be from the same family or extended family.

In home-based, you may be caring for siblings or for just one or two children so you may not be extending your bubble by much, that is unless you take in the maximum number of children and all from different families.

Opening in level-3 gives other staff and managers who are not within the ‘children’s bubble’ time to prepare for when all children come back at level-2.

Financial survival

ECE has a 3-month financial-safety net.

The wage subsidy is for up to 12 weeks. The subsidy is to support employers to retain staff. 

Operational funding remains in place until the end of June, even though for some, or all, of this time a service may have no child attending. ChildForum has asked the Ministry of Education to re-confirm this commitment under level-3.

The wage subsidy and the continuance of operational funding supports service providers to continue to pay staff as per their employment contract, whether they are physically in the workplace or not. At level-3 the government encourages people who are in vulnerable groups to stay at home.

The government has promised that funding will not be clawed back, so it’s unlikely a service would be penalised if no or few children attend. But potentially there could be shocks for any service that has not played by the rules, for example, a teacher-led centre that drops staff wages to below the minimum for salary attestation could discover that it is not eligible for the funding rate it received prior to the lockdown.

What happens after the end of June regarding ECE service funding may be affected by whether we have come out of this or are still in lockdown.

Charging fees for children not attending during level-3 is not recommended. However, for services that are open the WINZ childcare subsidy could technically resume for children attending, and others recorded as absences.

There is a conflict of emotions as teachers and educators will be missing children but also want to be safe, and children need to be safe. As I said earlier, the government’s goal is to carry as many people and businesses through to the other side. How we respond is a measure of how well we care about each other, our people, and NZ / Aotearoa

Kind regards,
Sarah Alexander

 

PS: As mentioned in earlier messages on this topic to all members and people on our newsletter mailing list, funding and safety are two major issues. (To be added to the mailing list go to the newsletter sign-up box)

A little reminder to everyone, to check employment and collective contracts for any agreements on health and safety conditions, to ensure that practices and support for employees provided is in line with and does not breach agreements (Read more)

An article to share with parents on why it's not a good idea to hide symptoms to sneak your sick child in, can be found here - use of painkillers for fever and hiding symptoms 

Teachers will need to have some pre-prepared helpful advice and suggestions for parents to help to manage the drop-off (get a copy of advice on how to handle the drop-off here)

Many services already require children to bring lunch-boxes. Generally, there are already good practices in place to limit the sharing of food between children and not using the same cups.  (go to lunch-box ideas)

 

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