New measures have been announced to assist childcare providers and parents plan for the reopening of services on June 29.
The measures drawn upon expert guidance provided by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) written specifically for the childcare sector.
The guidance, developed in consultation with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, focuses on a “play pod” model. The “play pod” model restricts interactions between closed groups of children and adults as an alternative to social distancing, which is not possible with young children. The purpose of ‘play-pods’ is to limit the number of people a child has contact with, to facilitate tracing, and to support close, positive interactions between children and their adult caregivers, like in a key-worker system. This system will also reduce the amount of contact adults have with each other. Where possible, there should be two adults in a ‘play-pod’, to allow breaks without need for floating staff. The maximum size of a ‘play-pod’ will be confirmed in the coming days.
Services will now be asked to apply the guidance to their setting and determine what capacity they may offer. It is expected that a significant amount of capacity will be available in individual services that reopen in the summer, subject to, for example, their space, room layout and staffing availability. Whilst there are 4,500 Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare services in the country, fewer than 2,000 of these normally remain open in July and August.
The HPSC guidance developed by their Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control Division (AMRIC) on ‘Infection Prevention and Control guidance for settings providing childcare during the COVID-19 Pandemic’ was agreed by NPHET’s Expert Advisory Group this week and will be published on the HPSC website today. As services reopen, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs will keep the operation of the guidance under close review and take appropriate updated action as required.
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has announced which children would be eligible to resume full or part-time childcare services from 29 June. Whilst initially the Government Roadmap had indicated that services would resume only for the children of essential workers, this has now been widened. Subject to local capacity, services are encouraged to support:

· Children of health and social care workers, other frontline workers, childcare practitioners and parents who need access to childcare in order to return to work.

· Vulnerable children sponsored under the National Childcare Scheme(NCS) (for example, children who are homeless and Tusla referrals) and children funded through legacy childcare schemes who are experiencing poverty, disadvantage or child welfare issues.

· Children with disabilities who previously attended part or full-time early learning and care, including those preparing to start school in September.

· Children previously registered in childcare services on March 12, whose parents continue to need childcare for employment or training purposes and who were assured that they would retain their place through conditions attached to the Department’s Temporary Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme (TWSCS). If capacity issues emerge, priority should be given to the children of essential or frontline workers.

Childminders will also be able to resume looking after children in the childminder’s home from June 29, while complying with HPSC advice.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has been engaging intensively with a number of organisations representing the childcare sector, through an Advisory Group. It is preparing a range of additional guidance and resources to assist the sector to prepare for reopening. These will start to issue in the coming days and continue over the four remaining weeks before opening.