Department of Health publishes updated COVID-19 guidance for childcare providers

On Friday 2 October, the Department of Health published important updates to its guidance for childminders and childcare settings, as well as a letter from the Chief Medical Officer to all parents and carers of children in childcare. We would strongly encourage all parents and carers, as well as childcare providers, to read this important guidance in detail – to promote the health and safety both of our children and our vital childcare sector.

Guidance for childcare providers

Two updated guidance documents have been published, one for registered group childcare settings and one for registered childminders.

As well as comprehensive guidance on infection control, there is a clear definition as to who is defined as a ‘close contact’ of an individual who contracts COVID-19. The guidance sets out the protocols that must be followed when, for example, a child, childminder or childcare staff member:

  • develops symptoms of COVID-19, both outside and within the setting
  • lives with, or is a ‘close contact’ of, someone who has tested positive for COVID19
  • has been tested for COVID19 (with guidance both for a negative and a positive test result)

Detailed information is provided on the Test, Trace and Protect strategy, which is designed to control the spread of COVID-19, and must be followed by childcare providers and parents.

The guidance for group childcare settings provides an update on the termination of some temporary easements to the Minimum Standards which were implemented at the start of the pandemic, but notes that there may continue to be certain time limited easements, on a case by case basis, which must be agreed with a setting’s HSC Trust Early Years Team in advance.

Childcare providers are asked to familiarise themselves with the guidance documents, and to share them with the parents and carers of all children in their care.  The guidance may continue to evolve, so all providers should check the Family Support NI website regularly.

Letter for parents and carers

The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, has issued a letter to all parents and carers of children in childcare, published online. This letter seeks to reassure parents and carers, but also to highlight the circumstances when a child may need to be tested for COVID19.

The letter confirms that, if a child develops any of the following symptoms of COVID-19, they should stay at home and arrangements made for them to be tested as soon as possible:

  • A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or alternatively 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours; or
  • A high temperature/fever – this means the child feelshot to touch on their chest or back (you do not need to measure their temperature); or
  • A loss of or change in sense of smell or taste.

Details on how to book a test can be found here.

Childcare providers should not ask parents to book a COVID-19 test unless their child has one or more of the symptoms above.

The letter to parents and carers also addresses recent reports that ‘tummy bugs’ may be a symptom of COVID-19 in children and young people, and states: “Whilst recent research provides useful early findings, there needs to be a wider discussion at a UK wide level about this. You therefore do not currently need to get your child tested.”

Parents and carers are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the guidance for childcare providers and, if they have any questions, to discuss them with them childcare provider or local HSC Trust Early Years Team (contact details are in the letter).

Read the guidance in full

The full guidance is available on the Family Support NI website here.