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Options and Information for Services following Announcement of the Postponement of

Recommencement of ECCE Programmes to Monday 1 February 2021

Guidance Note : Version 1

11/01/2021

Minister Roderic O’Gorman has now announced the postponement of the post-Christmas resumption of the ECCE programme to Monday 1 February 2021, in line with the most recent announcement of the delayed reopening of Primary and Secondary Schools. This is an attempt to further minimise social mixing in a bid to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

This guidance note is aimed at supporting and assisting service providers in making decisions within a very short timeframe and to highlight any potential HR implications. The situation regarding sessional only services is more straightforward but full and part-time services are faced with a more complex situation based on a variety of factors; demand from parents/guardians (particularly parents/guardians working on the frontline), availability of staff, financial sustainability, and risk management.

This guidance is based on the information, as it is/was currently available at the time of writing and may be subject to change as Government guidelines/information change.

For Sessional-only services, this announcement will mean a delay of the planned recommencement of the ECCE programme up to the intended reopening date of Monday 1 February 2021. Sessional-only services providing the ECCE programme are due to recommence as normal on Monday 1 February 2021. We at Canavan Byrne endeavour to keep you fully up to date with the relevant information as it becomes available in relation to the official postponement of Government-funded ECCE programme and other services.

Minister O’Gorman’s announcement from 1 January also states that Early Learning and Childcare Services, including childminders that provide services other than, or in addition to, the pre-school programme, can continue to operate as normal from Monday 4 January 2021.

For childminders, this may mean recommencement of work as usual from 4 January 2021 where children’s parents/guardians return to work on 4 January. Where preschool-registered children are being cared for by childminders, the postponement of the ECCE programme may mean childminders are required to work additional hours for the month of January 2021. Childminders should liaise directly with families to make the required arrangements around the postponement of the ECCE programme and what that might mean for their required hours of care to children.

For Part-time or Full Day Care Services who offer the ECCE programme as an integrated 15 hours per week during operational hours, this government-announced postponement of the ECCE programme may mean a temporary reduction of hours, a skeleton or ‘slimmed’ form of re-opening or a decision to extend post-Christmas closure fully until Monday 1 February 2021, when the funded ECCE programme is set to resume as normal.

For Afterschool [or School-Age only] Services this may or may not mean a delayed reopening following the gauging of demand for School Age Services in light of National School Closures for the week of 4 – 29 January 2021. In the case where children of parents/guardians require full-time school-age childcare in the week 11 - 29 January 2021, services may decide to operate full-time school age childcare for these families based on the demand for the service and the viability to operate services in a skeleton or ‘slimmed’ capacity. Please note that a minimum of two staff members are required at all times in the case where services are running at skeleton or ‘slimmed’ capacity.

Part-time, Full Day and/or Afterschool Services are now faced with various options to consider and decisions to make ahead of the resumption of services. It is important to remember, while considering the various options, that there is no ‘one size fits all’ or blanket approach. Each service should consider the most practical, reasonable and viable option ahead of the reopening of their relevant services.

Canavan Byrne endeavour to keep fully up to date with any further, additional, or new government guidelines and/or official announcements publicised and offer advice and support to services where possible. Please check in with our website at www.canvanbyrne.ie and our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CanavanByrne/ for regular updates, training and information.

In the meantime, here are some useful options and starter steps to consider:

  1. Communicate with your staff and families (see communication options Table 1, below) as early and as clearly as possible to reassure them you are taking relevant action in light of the recent announcement and thank them for their patience and cooperation as you work to do so. Be mindful in your communication of any family members where English may not be the first language/mother tongue. Keep language simple and clear where possible.
  2. Gauge the demand as early as possible for your Full-Time, Part-time and/or Afterschool services (see options in Table 2 below) ahead of week 4 – 29 January. Bear in mind that National Schools are now closed until 1 February 2021, so it is unlikely there will be high demand for Breakfast Club and/or Afterschool Services. Transport will also be unnecessary to and from National Schools for the week 4 – 29 January given schools will be closed.
  3. Under Level 5 restrictions, and in light of Minister O’Gorman’s announcement, the working arrangements of children’s parents/guardians may now differ for week 4 – 29 Parents/guardians may not require childcare during this period (particularly where school-age children require care at home). Parents/guardians may be working from home and may be in a position to look after their children or have alternative temporary care arrangements in place (grandparents or members of their support bubble, for example). We recommend you communicate with parents/families carrying out Essential Work Services from home.
  4. Parents/guardians may feel somewhat fearful or hesitant around returning their child/ren to Full, Part-time or After School services while cases of COVID-19 are on the rise. This may be a personal decision as a temporary precautionary measure and therefore, they may choose not to avail of childcare even if services reopen. In this case, it is important that this decision is communicated by parents/guardians to service providers/managers and that reference to the service’s policies on fee payments is made accordingly.
  5. Where parents/guardians decide to avail of any Full or Part-Time Childcare services being offered in week 4 – 29 January, and their child(ren) qualify for ECCE, they should not be charged for the additional 3 hours per day since services will continue to receive funding for the eligible children registered to the service.
  6. Services might consider a review of COVID-19 safety measures and that are due to be reimplemented in the setting with clear concise expectations outlined to all staff (as a refresher/reorientation of COVID safety measures) following the Christmas break. The postponement of the ECCE programme to Monday 1 February 2021 will allow services to carry out the required thorough repeat of the risk assessments of COVID-19 safety measures ahead of reopening. Refresher webinars are currently available to services through Canavan Byrne ahead of the reopening of ECCE on 1 February 2021 and/or for services already reopened. You might choose to reassure parents/guardians of children registered and returning that refresher training/reorientation has taken place prior to the reopening of services.
  7. Sessional Services may consider continuing to pay their staff (either through the ECCE funding, EWSS, or private payment) for the days they were due to return to work in the month of January (from 4 January or thereafter).
  8. Staff will be required to complete a ‘Fit to Return COVID form’ and can be assigned planning, documenting, cleaning or other administrative duties if/as required by the service. Any duties assigned to staff from home should fall within the parameters of staff contracts and should be appropriately risk assessed by the service.
  9. Services may are encouraged to apply for the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme if they have not already done so: https://www.revenue.ie/en/employing-people/ewss/index.aspx. Please note: A special exemption for early learning and childcare services to the turnover rule (reduction of 30%) within EWSS will be included to recognise the need to retain capacity in the sector and support parents to access childcare places and get back to work. Please see the following information by clicking on the link or copying and pasting the link directly into your browser: https://www.revenue.ie/en/employing-people/ewss/qualifying-criteria-for-employers.aspx
  10. Providers may decide, based on risk assessment, not to open their fulltime/ Full/Part-time or School Age Services until a later date. Providers will need to decide if they can sustain the close period and pay staff as normal under these exceptional circumstances or staff may be temporarily laid off in order to apply for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
  11. Where temporary lay off is offered to some but not all staff members it is important that this is done fairly and equitably. How this is done will depend on the content of the employee’s Contract of Employment. Before decisions are made the contract of employment should be reviewed.
  12. Where services offering Full or Part-time care decide to open for the week 4 – 29 January, providers that have staff who are contracted for ECCE only (and this is clear within the Contract of Employment) may follow the advice pertaining to SESSIONAL ONLY SERVICES for these staff members only (See Table 3). If the staff working in ECCE rooms are contracted as full time staff and are not ECCE only they must be considered with all other staff if decisions are made about reduction of hours or a skeleton service.
  13. Services may consider offering staff members the opportunity to take any owed Annual Leave days for days they are not required to work (by way of agreement between employer and employee only) during the week 4 – 29 January due to the recent announcement of Sessional Preschool Closures, the decision to postpone reopening of services to Monday 1 February 2021, or a skeleton or ‘slimmed’ reopening from Monday 4 January or date thereafter in the week of 4 – 29

Tables of various options for services to consider ahead of next week

Please download the tables here to see the various options for Recommended Effective Communication of Relevant Information Methods, Options to services for gauging demand for services week 4-8 January 2021 and Staff attendance and Payment options for Services for week 4-29th January 2021.