As we head into our first week of the July lockdown in parts of NSW, QLD, NT and WA and with outbreaks occurring throughout Australia, members have been calling to ask questions about a variety of issues relating to health and safety and day-to-day operations. Do we have to wear a mask? How transmissible is the virus among children? Should we restrict education and care to essential workers only?
We share the answers to these questions, along with best practice advice on how to keep staff and children safe, and links to updated COVID-19 tools and resources for members.
It’s been a while since our last lock down, and we’re now accustomed to many of the associated challenges. However, the new Delta strain of coronavirus circulating in the current outbreak brings with it new concerns as it has been shown to be more transmissible, including amongst children.
Dr. Andrew Miller, an anaesthetist and president of the West Australian branch of the Australian Medical Association, told ABC News that he could see how people were concerned about children and the Delta strain.
“We are seeing outbreaks in countries like Israel set off from the Delta strain spreading in schools,” he said. “There’s no reason to think that Australia will be any different.”
It’s important to bear in mind that scientists believe the Delta strain is more contagious in all age groups than previous strains, but say it is not necessarily more transmissible in children.
How can early educators best protect themselves and the children in their care?
It’s important that all services complete and implement a COVID-19 safety plan as part of their risk assessment, which should be kept up to date and in a place where all staff can easily reference and access it.
The NSW Department of Education is asking that services and providers have up-to-date emergency contact details in the National Quality Agenda IT System (NQA ITS) as these details will be used should NSW Health need to contact your service after hours.
In addition to that, appropriate health and hygiene factors should remain a top priority, including:
- Physical distancing of adults wherever possible.
- Continued emphasis on hand washing and regular cleaning/disinfecting of surfaces.
- Clearly advising staff and families that staff and children should stay at home if experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or if unwell, no matter how mild, and get tested immediately.
- Wearing masks wherever possible, but especially indoors.
While masks are not mandated when working with children, NSW Education recommends that staff wear masks when engaging with other adults in the office or staff room, or when engaging with parents at drop off or pick up. Remember that masks are mandated in all other places of work, and that you have the right to wear a mask when working with children if you choose to do so. Educational Leader Karla Wintle shared a fantastic reflection on wearing masks in ECEC through Amplify last year, it’s worth a read if you haven’t seen it yet.
CELA members can download our updated COVID Action Plan, Risk Assessment Tool and COVID Policy and recommend that parents and staff receive clear communication about these practices.
View COVID Action Plan
View COVID Policy
View Risk Assessment Tool
The NSW Department of Education answers your other frequently asked questions
CELA CEO Michele Carnegie attended the NSW Education Early Childhood Advisory Group meeting yesterday, along with representatives from other early education organisations and peak bodies. The panel shared questions that many of you are asking, and received the following answers:
Is education and care restricted to children of ‘essential workers’ during this period?
The Public Health order does not define ‘essential workers’. Education and care services are able to remain open to offer care to people whose children require it. Services may, at their discretion, make business decisions that limit the number of children accepted into care.
When can a child return to care following a period of illness?
A negative COVID-19 test is reassuring, however, a child should not return to care if they remain symptomatic and unwell.
How is the Department supporting services in the event of staff shortages?
Services and providers may apply for temporary waivers to address staff shortages. Waivers can be granted for qualifications and, in exceptional circumstances, ratios.
Waivers related to COVID-19 are:
- assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure children are not placed at additional risk;
- only open to services that can demonstrate need,
- fast-tracked – as long as there’s no increased risk to staff or children’s safety.
The department’s COVID guidelines for ECEC services webpage has more information about applying for a waiver.
Can educators work between different rooms, or at different service locations?
Where possible and practical, movements between rooms and between services should be minimised. Risks associated with movement of staff should be considered as part of the services’ COVID-safe plans.
Can siblings of individuals identified as close contacts continue to attend education and care services?
It is likely that siblings of close contacts will need to isolate and should not attend care however this depends on the circumstances.
Please contact NSW Health for further advice in relation to specific circumstances.
Should allied health services continue visiting education and care services during this period (speech therapists, occupational therapists etc)?
Services should limit non-essential visitors. However, visits by health and wellbeing professionals to support children can occur if necessary for the immediate health and wellbeing needs of children. Individual services should use their discretion in making this determination.
Source: NSW ECED COVID update, Monday 28 June
The Department regularly updates the COVID-19 Guidelines for ECEC services based on advice from NSW Health.
We encourage you to check the guidelines on a regular basis as we move through the coming weeks.
For services who are funded under Childcare Subsidy (CCS), The Department of Education, Skills and Employment has provided the following advice
Absences – Children attending a service in the affected LGAs will have access to additional absences during the LAE period if they have used their available allowable absences.
Learn more about absences during an emergency.
Gap fee waiver – Services directed to close by a local authority because of COVID-19 can waive gap fees until 31 December 2021.
Other Government support – The Australian Government has declared parts of Sydney a COVID-19 Hotspot until 2 July 2021. Further information can be found on the Services Australia website.
If you have to close – If you close your service, you must report the closure within 24 hours to:
Help in an emergency – Some services may be eligible for a Community Child Care Fund Special Circumstances Grant.
What we are advocating for
Eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccination is listed on the Australian Government website. Many of our members who are not currently eligible are seeking priority for vaccination, and we are again raising that early educators should be seen as a priority group due to their status as an essential service.
We are acutely aware of the challenges that many of our members are facing due to the current sector workforce issues. We are hearing first hand stories of daily struggles to find casual staff to cover illness, permanent positions remaining unfilled, and the serious operating decisions that are being made as a result. The issue is accentuated in rural and remote areas where results of COVID testing are taking days to come back and educators need to isolate until a negative result is received. We understand that the situation may become very challenging to deal with if a service has a number of staff off sick due to COVID.
Our members are reporting rising numbers of attendance requests from parents due to the school holidays, which will put further pressure on services experiencing staff shortages. CELA will continue our open dialogue with government on this matter.
¹ Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/confirmed-cases-of-covid-19-variants-identified-in-uk