In your early years setting, you have probably been thinking for a while about the day you will be able to welcome the children (other than those of key workers) back into your care.
Hundreds of childcare settings have been open for children of critical workers, and vulnerable children, since lockdown restrictions were put in place in March; but from 1st June, all early years settings are expected to start preparing for wider openings.
The children’s wellbeing is paramount. But of course, at the forefront of your mind will also be your team and how you will be able to safeguard their health and wellbeing. Many of your staff will be concerned or anxious about being back at work or even travelling to work, particularly if they need to take public transport. One thing is certain… they will all want to know that once they arrive, you have thought about their physical and mental health.
There is an abundance of resources from the official early years organisations available online; and with the Government’s and Public Health England’s advice and guidelines changing regularly, it is imperative to keep up-to-date with those official sources. We’ve listed the main ones at the end of this article.
With all these things to think about, it can, understandably, feel overwhelming. So we’ve put together some advice, tips and useful links so you have everything all in one place, to help you prepare.
- Communicate regularly to your staff what practical measures you are taking to help reassure them that their health, wellbeing and safety is your top priority. Make sure your team is clear about what they should do if they begin to feel unwell, both in the workplace and at home.
- The guidance from the Department for Education on protective measures outlines steps that childcare providers can take to deal with the direct transmission (e.g. via coughing and sneezing) and indirect transmission (e.g. through touching contaminated surfaces). According to this advice, the main points that you need to consider to help you prepare a risk assessment which should reduce the risk of transmitting an infection are:
- Minimising contact with unwell individuals, and ensuring anyone who has coronavirus symptoms themselves or who lives with some displaying symptoms, does not attend your setting.
- Washing hands thoroughly and frequently for 20 seconds with soap or water, or alcohol hand rub or hand sanitiser.~
- Catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, and putting the tissue in a bin straight away.
- Cleaning frequently-touched surfaces – there is the new official guidance here.
- Minimising contact between groups of children.
- Additional guidance from the DfE includes:
- Considering which activities are suitable to deliver, and which could take place outdoors.
- Staggering drop-off and collection times.
- Planning drop-off and pick-up protocols “that minimise adult to adult contact”.
- Considering how play equipment is used, “ensuring it is appropriately cleaned between groups of children using it, and that multiple groups do not use it simultaneously”.
- Removing unnecessary items from the learning environment and minimising the use of soft toys and furnishings as far as possible, as well as toys that are hard to clean.
Prepare your risk assessment using the points above for guidance and have it clearly displayed in your setting, as well as discussing in it in your team meeting when staff return.
- A question that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue is “how can we possibly maintain a 2-metre physical distance between each other whilst caring for the children? While the industry awaits further advice, you can read here the Government guidance on 2 metres distancing in its information regarding implementing protective measures.
- If your setting has been closed for a while, then a deep clean should be carried out before re-opening.
- If you feel it necessary and if available, you may want to consider providing additional personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, masks or anti-viral hand gel. If you want your staff to wear gloves/masks, then you will also need to think about training/briefing staff on their correct usage – since both can be ineffective if used inappropriately. The government has issued PPE guidance for England nurseries here.
The risks to people’s health from Coronavirus are not limited to physical. Mental health cases have risen dramatically since the outbreak and we must be mindful of this when welcoming staff back. Issues include anxiety about the crisis itself and fear of infection, as well the social implications that isolation brings due to the lockdown. Many staff will have experienced challenging domestic situations, such as juggling childcare, caring for a vulnerable relative, or even bereavement or domestic abuse; coupled with all the financial worries that everybody has experienced.
Because the whole situation is a moveable feast, changes to both the current restrictions and the easing of social distancing are likely to fluctuate, depending on how the next few weeks pan out; and stricter measures could be imposed, possibly with very little notice.
The main points to remember are to communicate with your staff, keep up-to-date with the latest guidance and above all, stay safe.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development guide to returning to the workplace
Croner-i early years reopening toolkit
Department for Education and Public Health England:
An overview of scientific advice and information on coronavirus for educational settings.