Covid-19: Childcare criteria to include parents who need it for work from June 29th

Children will be grouped into ‘pods’ of between six and 12 when sector reopens

It was “not possible” to say how many of the 4,500 childcare providers would be in a position to re-open at the end of June, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone  said.  Photograph: iStock

It was “not possible” to say how many of the 4,500 childcare providers would be in a position to re-open at the end of June, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said. Photograph: iStock

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The eligibility criteria for children returning to childcare on June 29th has been broadened, but only if it is needed for parents returning to work or education, the Department of Children has announced.

While the Government’s roadmap for reopening the State previously suggested that childcare would be limited to children of those deemed to be essential workers, under the new guidelines, the children of most workers will be eligible to return to childcare.

In a situation where a capacity constraint emerges, preference will be given to the children of frontline workers such as healthcare professionals.

Preference will also be given to a range of children, including vulnerable children and those with disabilities.

According to guidelines posted by the department on Friday night, childcare services will also be “encouraged to support” children who were previously enrolled, prior to the Covid crisis forcing the closure of creches around the country.

Children will be grouped into “pods” of between six and 12, as childcare facilities begin to reopen from June 29th, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said.

As the sector reopens it will be “inevitable” that there would be some transmission of the coronavirus, but infection control guidelines would reduce that risk, Ms Zappone said.

It was “not possible” to say how many of the 4,500 childcare providers would be in a position to reopen at the end of June, she said on Friday.

Children will be divided into groups, known as “pods”, who they will remain with through the day, when creches and other childcare facilities reopen.

The same staff and children should remain in the same “pod” each day where possible, the department has told providers.

Speaking on Friday, Ms Zappone said guidelines could see six children per pod for those under one years of age, and 12 per pod for children older than two years of age.

There was “no evidence base” for the maximum number per pod, but practice would be to keep them as small as practicable, Ms Zappone said.

Initially the Government had intended that childcare providers would only be available on June 29th for the children of essential workers. In a statement the department announced this would be widened to include several other groups.

These would include vulnerable children who were homeless, experiencing poverty, or child welfare issues, and children with disabilities.

The availability of places would be subject to “local capacity” among providers, the department said.

Providers would also be encouraged to accommodate children of parents who required childcare to allow them to return to work.

“If capacity issues emerge, priority should be given to the children of essential or frontline workers,” the department said.

Childminders will also be able to resume caring for children in their homes from June 29th.

Large rooms will be allowed to accommodate more than one “pod” of children when childcare facilities reopen, according to guidance sent to providers in recent days.

The guidelines state a large room may contain more than one “pod”, provided there are partitions that prevent physical contact between the groups, and the room still complies with fire safety requirements.

Toys should not be shared between different pods and the groups should be kept apart during pick-ups and drop-offs by parents, and in outdoor areas, the document outlines.

Children older than six “will be asked to keep a distance between each other and avoid physical contact to the greatest extent possible,” it states.

Each pod should have two staff members per group to allow for breaks without the need for “floating staff” to fill in, the guidance states.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is not required to be worn when staff are interacting with children, however when not caring for children staff should follow public health advice around the wearing of face coverings, the guidance states.

The document, dated May 27th, states childcare providers’ requirements to stagger start and finish times to avoid congregated gatherings may “impact capacity”. Further guidance for how childcare providers should respond to Covid-19 cases is to be published by the department next week.