Updated: Aug 13, 2020
A quick reminder…..On Friday 20th March 2020 schools in the UK closed to most pupils. ‘Vulnerable children’ and children of key workers that could not be safely cared for at home were able to continue attending school and childcare. Just a few days later, on 23rd March, in an unprecedented step to attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus, Boris Johnson gave us his “simple instruction – you must stay at home” to protect the NHS amid the growing threat of coronavirus.
What happened next? Some children and families were thrust into a new and uncertain world of childcare at home/home schooling whilst balancing working from home. Others trying to balance the commute and work in their ‘keyworker’ roles with childcare and family life. Either way, family life changed overnight as we followed the #stayathome instruction and we heard more and more about self-isolating, furloughing, sheltering the vulnerable, not to mention the daily updates about the worldwide spread of COVID-19 and truly eye watering statistics about the people who have tragically lost their lives during this pandemic. The chances are that the children will be hearing some of this news, they might know someone whose life has been affected by coronavirus, they may be worried about what happens if they or their parents/family members come ill. They will almost certainly be missing their old routines, their friends, childcare practitioners/key persons and teachers.
Fast-forward to 10th May 2020 After almost two months of restrictions on our work, freedom and movements the much-anticipated Government announcement – plans to slowly ease/modify some of the restrictions in place. It quickly became clear that Boris’ update was only for England as the individual home nations have their own devolved governments, data and chief medical officers and their #stayathome messages remain. In his Special Coronavirus Update, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, announced a ‘roadmap’ with a conditional 3-step plan to ease restrictions. We need to remember that he did not announce the end of the COVID-19 pandemic or that it was time to stop the lockdown measures. In fact, sadly he did not make any reference at all to the early years workforce or childcare despite “actively encouraging” those that can’t work from home such as in the construction and manufacturing fields to return to work. Later that evening The DfE’s FaceBook post 10/05/2020 at 2045hrs said ‘As confirmed by the Prime Minister this evening, we are asking education and childcare settings to prepare to open for more children from 1 June. We will publish further guidance setting out more information for early years, schools and colleges tomorrow’. The Government guidance was published 11th May, 2pm. Here are a few quotes, but please read the full document to see the full context: Step 1 ‘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’ (HM Government, May 2020 pg. 26). Step 2 ‘A phased return for early years settings and schools. Schools should prepare to begin to open for more children from 1 June. The Government expects children to be able to return to early years settings, and for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to be back in school in smaller sizes, from this point’ (HM Government, May 2020 pg.30). Questions are still being raised and guidance documents are being tweaked. There have been three different messages for childminders in 48 hours. The Government road map step 1 seemingly stating that childminders should return to work from 13th May, whilst separate guidance published by the Department for Education, that early years settings should open for more children from 1st June. The latest information for childminders came from the DfE via Nursery World 12th May, lighting up social media during the evening with yet more questions: ‘Our published guidance sets out that childminders and early years settings can open to more children from 1 June. ‘In line with the prime minister’s drive to get more people back into work where possible and to align with the Government’s position on nannies, we are updating our guidance for early years settings to be clear that paid childcare can be provided to the children of one household from Wednesday 13 May. ‘This includes childminders who may choose to look after the children of one household, if they are not already looking after vulnerable children or children of critical workers.’ What will your new-look childcare setting look like? Of course, some settings will have remained open for ‘keyworker children’, working within a new set of parameters and risk assessments. Whilst others will have made the heart-breaking decision to temporarily close their doors during the pandemic. As the early years leaders and managers contemplate the reintegration of staff and more children, they need to consider how they support the physical and emotional well-being of staff and children, whilst considering any anxieties from parents/carers too.
Planning for a new ‘normal’ In June, after 10 weeks (or more) at home, children are unlikely to skip back through your childcare door like they never left. Therefore, careful thought needs to be given into helping children to re-settle back into childcare. They will have established their #stayathome routines, which include social distancing from friends and extended family so they may be confused and worried about mixing socially again. Having been at home 24/7 they are likely to miss their family members; they may be very confused and even traumatised by recent significant events in their lives. Staff meetings/virtual meetings with reminders about attachment theory, separation anxiety, brain development/behaviour and safeguarding may help to support the well-being, mental health and emotional development of the children. Parents may have experienced their child’s meltdowns and possibly regressions in behaviour. These may be a reoccurring feature as routines and expectations change again. Settling (re-settling) visits may be difficult to facilitate with extra adults on-site and space to facilitate social distancing, etc. Regular video calls throughout this time will help keep in touch and perhaps a few with individual families before they are due to start back may help too. Once you re-open or more children start to attend, how will drop off and collections work? For example, is it possible for one member of staff to greet older children attending sessional care at the door, facilitating “goodbyes” to their adults, entering the premises and washing their hands? If not, perhaps staggering starting times so there are not as many adults and children in one space at the same time might work?
Some things to consider I do not have all the answers in a short blog but here are some things to consider:
Keep in regular contact with all staff (whether they are working or furloughed). Make time to touch base, ask them about their own well-being and whether they have any concerns or questions.
Keep in touch with children and families that are not attending. Some settings have recorded lovely videos of staff saying ‘Hello’ and/or showing their own artwork and baking activities, etc. Key people in other settings have recorded story/circle times or run live sessions for parents and children to join in. Give parents a platform/method/system to help their children to send you messages or photos of their cards/artwork/pictures, etc.
Review/amend your safeguarding policy (you could add a COVID-19 appendix rather than changing it all if you want). It is a sad fact that child abuse and domestic violence are some of the things that do not stop during a pandemic. There has been an increase of domestic violence reports whilst a decrease in child protection calls. Please be aware of this and refresh your own and your staffs’ knowledge of the signs, symptoms, indicators and behaviours of abuse - remember that for some children your childcare is their safe place/solace.
Clearly communicate your plans to staff and parents. Hygiene is always of high consideration in early years settings but explaining how you are following the current additional guidance may help. For example, removing soft toys and resources that can’t be cleaned/washed daily and enhanced cleaning of toys, equipment, door handles, etc. Extra hand washing, for example as people enter the premises, in addition to your usual regimes, ensuring that children are helped/reminded about how to thoroughly wash their hands.
Of course, keeping 2 meters apart is impossible in the early years sector. DfE guidance says not to wear face masks in schools and early years settings and a ‘majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work’ (such as care routines).
Ask parents/carers about their plans. When will their children be returning to childcare? Will they return on the same days and hours as before? Do they have any questions or specific concerns?
Ask families for updated information before they re-start childcare. What have they been doing at home? What new development/skills have they observed whilst their children have been at home? Any significant events, new routines, favourite books, TV programmes or interests they can tell you about
Consider some background reading, for example talking to children about illness, viruses and perhaps in some cases bereavement. *Please read the full guidance yourself so these quotes are not taken out of context. Reading list Department for Education (11th May 2020), Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-implementing-protective-measures-in-education-and-childcare-settings/coronavirus-covid-19-implementing-protective-measures-in-education-and-childcare-settingsAccessed 11/05/2020 HM Government (May 2020), OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/884171/FINAL_6.6637_CO_HMG_C19_Recovery_FINAL_110520_v2_WEB__1_.pdfAccessed 11/05/2020 Nursery World (12th May 2020), Breaking: DfE confirms that childminders can now open from tomorrow for children from one household https://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/news/article/breaking-dfe-confirms-childminders-can-now-open-from-tomorrow-for-children-from-one-householdAccessed 12/05/2020
For more support on planning your business in preparation for re-opening to the wider community, check out resources in our new normal bundle.
Read more about child development, behaviour in Sue’s book Self-Regulation Skills in Young Children