Education Minister announces Childcare Sector Recovery Plan
With childcare at the top of the Executive’s list of priorities and receiving significant media attention over recent weeks, the anticipated Recovery Plan for the sector was one of the key announcements in the Executive’s briefing yesterday (Thursday 18 June).
Education Minister Peter Weir explained: “As we move towards a new normal, we must recognise that the provision of childcare is of the utmost importance to enable parents to get back out into the working environment.” Both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister indicated the importance of childcare in facilitating economic recovery and recognised the need to ensure the sector is supported to deliver the service parents need at this critical time.
The key measures announced as part of the Recovery Plan, which aims to restore the childcare sector to pre-COVID19 capacity levels as quickly and safely as possible, include the following:
- Removal of the key worker definition from 29 June allowing all parents to access registered childcare.
- Removal of minimum and maximum numbers for day care and school age childcare settings (Minimum Standards and Department of Health guidelines on safe practice to minimise the transmission of COVID19 – such as ‘play pods’ limiting interaction across households – continue to apply. For more information see guidance for childcare providers on the Family Support NI website).
- Increase in the number of families a childminder can look after at any one time from 3 to 4, with a further increase to 5 from August. There is no other restriction on the number of children a childminder can care for at any one time, other than as per the Minimum Standards.
- The process for varying registration and for re-opening has been streamlined, and Health and Social Care Trusts aim to process applications for setting re-opening within 72 hours.
- Between 1 July and 31 August 2020, indemnification letters in relation to COVID19 related incidents will be issued to childcare providers in Northern Ireland when confirmation of reopening is received from a Health and Social Care Trust.
While there were no further details announced, both the First and Deputy First Minister indicated their commitment to finding a way to support childcare providers, parents and the childcare workforce to deliver a service that is affordable, accessible and safe, recognising there were some issues with the initial funding package. More information is expected to follow next week with regard to a funding package for the sector.
Those childcare providers who are currently open are reminded to submit their applications for financial support under the COVID19 childcare support scheme – application forms have been issued, or will issue, to all relevant settings and there is support available to assist providers if they have any questions about the application process.
Commenting on the developments, Aoife Hamilton, Policy and Information Manager at Employers For Childcare said: “We welcome this announcement as a positive step in facilitating the provision of childcare for more parents who need it. The removal of the key worker definition means all parents will be eligible to access childcare from 29 June. This is vital as we know the current situation of parents working, whether from home or the workplace, while looking after their children is unsustainable in the longer term. We look forward to the publication of the Childcare Recovery Strategy in full and further details on the much-needed support that will be made available to the sector at this critical time.”
For the latest information in relation to childcare, including guidance for childcare providers as they prepare for reopening, and for parents seeking reassurance on the measures being put in place to keep their children safe as they return to childcare, visit the Family Support NI website.
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Anyone with questions around accessing and paying for childcare can contact our Family Benefits Advice Service for free, impartial and confidential advice on 0800 028 3008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.