What is the childcare recovery plan intending to achieve?
The childcare recovery plan aims to restore the childcare sector to pre-Covid-19 capacity levels as quickly and safely as possible. The aim of the plan is to ensure more parents can access childcare over the next few months.
Is childcare going to be available for any parent regardless of where they work?
We recognise the need for childcare provision to align with Executive decision-making in relation to parents being able to return to work. Therefore, from 29 June, the definition of keyworker will no longer apply for access to childcare. This will assist a return to full capacity by enabling more providers to reopen and more parents to access registered childcare. The introduction of Social Support Units (Bubbles) will also help to restore informal childcare for some families. Informal childcare will increase further as Units develop.
Parents should check the Family Support NI website for childcare available in their area.
Will it be safe for children and staff to return to childcare in advance of schools re-opening?
The guidance for childminders, daycare settings and school age childcare settings sets out the expectations of providers in terms of adherence to public health and infection control advice. The guidance also makes it clear that children should be cared for within Play Pods of up to 12 children, and Pods should be kept apart. The layout of the Play Pod should comply with the minimum space per child requirements in the Minimum Standards.
A copy of the guidance for childcare providers and information to parents is available on the Family Support NI website here.
Will indemnification be provided to childcare providers?
Between 1 July and 31 August 2020, indemnification letters will be issued to childcare providers who are providing childcare services, against Covid-19 related incidents, when confirmation relating to re-opening is received from a Health and Social Care Trust.
What about parents who rely on informal childcare?
In childcare terms, the announcement by the Executive on 22 June, allowing up to six people to meet indoors will enable a family to access childcare support from another family member (or a friend)
Informal childcare should be distinguished from ‘unregistered’ childcare, which is childcare by providers who are not formally registered but who charge a fee for their services. It is illegal to operate as a childcare provider without being registered with the local Health and Social Care Trust.
Will more childcare rather than less not be needed to support schools re-opening if it is done in a staggered way?
School re-opening plans and the availability of childcare is inextricably linked and further work will be required to build the capacity of the childcare sector as quickly as possible, to ensure that the potential shortfall is kept to a minimum. However, with the Executive agreement to permit one metre social distancing between children within schools, this pressure is likely to be significantly reduced.
How will a new scheme work and how much will be invested in it?
Funding of a future childcare scheme will be a matter for the Executive. Details of a revised scheme are being developed, subject to funding decisions.
How have you been working with the sector?
Support for providers was provided through support agreements with a number of key sectoral organisations, including the Northern Ireland Childminding Association; the Early Years Organisation, Playboard and Employers for Childcare. This is in addition to support for parents through the Parentline Helpline and published advice and information.
The Department of Health and Education established a Childcare Reference Group, with representatives of the sector early on in the process. The Group have been advising and supporting the implementation of the current childcare scheme and on recovery planning in the sector going forward.
Does this not indicate just how much a Childcare Strategy is needed in Northern Ireland?
Work is ongoing with the Childcare Reference Group to consider recovery planning and the issues facing the sector going forward. This information will inform any further development of the Executive Childcare Strategy for Executive consideration.