In the Government’s roadmap for reopening the country, this was originally limited to essential workers.

But this evening the Department of Children and Youth Affairs confirmed that this has now been expanded to all those in need of childcare.

However, they said this will be subject to the capacity of childcare providers and if there is an issue, essential and frontline workers and vulnerable children will be given priority.

Childminders will also be able to resume looking after children in the childminder’s home from 29 June.

The department says it is prioritising the opening of full-time and part-time childcare services and once this happens, it will move to planning for the resumption of the free pre-school programme known as the ECCE scheme, at the end of August.

Childcare providers have also been encouraged to support the return of children with disabilities who previously attended their services, in particular those preparing to start school in September.

Earlier, the department also confirmed that so called “play pods” would be used by early years and childcare services when children return to their care.

They consist of a number of children and adults who stay in that pod and do not mix with other pods indoors, outdoors or at drop off and collection times.

They do not share toys and have different meal and break times.

More than one pod can operate in a room with a “light partition” in place.

It also says children from the same household should, where possible, be in the same pod.

The pod system is designed to help with infection control, be an alternative to social distancing, which the department says is not possible for young children, and would facilitate contact tracing if there was an outbreak.

A number of children and adults in the pod will depend on the children’s age but will follow existing adult-child ratios and should have a minimum of two adults to allow for staff breaks.

For children in full-time care, the existing ratios are one adult to three children for those aged under one year. It increased to one adult to five children for one-year-olds; one adult to six children for two-year-olds; and one adult to eight children for those aged three to six.

For sessional students, the ratios are different again. One to 11 for those in the two years of pre-school and one to 12 for children of school age.

The department says while the Health Protection Surveillance Centre says there is no evidence base to define a maximum number for pods, they should be kept as small as possible in the specific childcare context.

The HPSC also says that it is not appropriate for childcare workers to wear face covering when caring for children but they should follow NPHET advice on this for interaction between adults.

Research conducted for the department also suggests there may be a drop in demand for childcare services when they reopen.

A survey of more than 500 households with children under 15 found that only half of those who had children in centre-based care prior to the restrictions intend to return them to these settings.

The department is encouraging children and service providers to make contact with each other so that the level of demand can be assessed.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she hoped that childcare services that normally operate over the summer can resume their services on 29 June “for the sake of children, families and our economy”.

She also said she was conscious that the past three months have been tough on children who have missed playing with their friends and hugging their grandparents.

She said this was why she wanted to do her best to reintroduce some familiarity to their lives.

The minister also said it was inevitable that there would be some transmission of the virus in many settings at some point in time.

But she said the new measures would help limit that and that there will be additional Covid-19 training provided for childcare professionals.

Early Childhood Ireland says it welcomed the publication of the advice and its members must now examine their capacity, balancing family needs with that advice.

It also said parents, providers or staff cannot be asked to meet any funding gap and its vital that Government comes forward with realistic financial measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector.

Childcare sector specific work safety guidance is due to be issued to the sector next week.

In its advice the Health Protection Surveillance Centre said it is not possible to guarantee that infection can be prevented in any setting and one of the key challenges for all who care for children during this pandemic is to balance the need for a practical and sensible level of caution with the need for a nurturing and supportive environment for children.

“An atmosphere of fear and on overwhelming preoccupation with hygiene can be harmful for children without materially reducing the risk of infection.”

It suggests parents should wait in cars while a childcare workers come to the car to collect and return the child.

And it says all dropping off and picking up children should be arranged in a way that maintains distance between parents and between parents and childcare workers.



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