Health and Education Ministers provide update on childcare provision during COVID-19 pandemic
Health Minister Robin Swann and Education Minister Peter Weir have come together to provide more detail of the arrangements to provide childcare for vulnerable children and the children of key workers across Northern Ireland during the ongoing health crisis. Ministers have emphasised that where it is possible, children should be cared for in their own homes. Schools, pre-school education settings, registered daycare facilities and childminders should only be providing care for the children of key workers and vulnerable children. For the definition of what is meant by a key worker or vulnerable child, click here. Note that this definition is more restrictive than the definition applied to schools and pre-schools.
A summary of the arrangements being put in place is as follows:
Many schools across Northern Ireland are providing supervised learning for children who are vulnerable, or whose parents are critical to the COVID-19 response, so they can continue to work, where alternative childcare arrangements cannot be made. Supported by the Education Authority, some are doing so on a cluster basis to serve the needs of children within a geographic area. A list of schools which is open and providing this care is available on the Department of Education’s website.
Approved Home Childcarer Scheme (revised)
This scheme enables childcare workers who already provide childcare to children in daycare and school age childcare facilities to be matched to parents and their children, to provide this care in the children’s own homes. A revision to the scheme has been put in place whereby daycare and school age childcare providers who employ those workers have been asked to continue to act as employers under the Scheme. This will mean that parents will continue to pay their usual fees to their provider, therefore not incurring any additional costs. Government will meet any additional costs incurred by the provider relating to salary and the management of an employee who becomes an approved home childcarer under the scheme. The scheme will be kept under review.
We are delighted that our Family Benefits Advice Service has been engaged to provide advice and guidance on the Approved Home Childcarer Scheme for parents, daycare providers and approved home childcarers.
Enhanced Childminder support
A large number of registered childminders have indicated they are willing to help to meet the childcare needs of key workers and vulnerable children at this time. These childminders will be financially supported to enable them to continue to provide this childcare during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also meeting the additional demands in terms of infection control practices. Where childminders are able to offer childcare in a child’s own home, the Government has agreed to put in place a fast track approval process to make that possible, similar to the Approved Home Childcarer Scheme. The Northern Ireland Childminding Association will assist in matching parents with childminders, where this is required.
Support for childcare settings
While there is a realisation that childcare providers will need support to re-open or get back up and running when the pandemic ends, the focus at this time is on sustaining those providers that continue to operate, or wish to reopen, to provide care for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. It is recognised that settings will have to operate with very restricted numbers while at the same time, trying to enable as many key workers as possible to continue working. Health and Social Care Trusts have been asked to:
- identify the unmet childcare needs of their staff
- identify the number of settings which continue to operate in their areas
- match the children of key workers, and vulnerable children, to those settings.
The Departments accept this will lead to a loss of income for providers and will pose a risk to their viability and have committed to putting in place a package of financial resilience measures to support them.
If there is still unmet demand from key worker parents or for care for vulnerable children, HSC Trusts will work with providers that have closed to support them to reopen in the locations where key worker parents need them most. Initially, demand is anticipated to be close to major hospitals and that will be the priority. Childcare providers may be asked to open for longer than their normal hours, for 7 days a week if necessary. Trusts will be asked to work with providers to determine what is required and support them to make that possible.
The Family Support NI website will provide information on where childcare places are available – childcare providers are asked to ensure their HSC Trust Early Years team and the FamilySupportNI register are kept up to date with any changes in their capacity to provide childcare to enable parents to find places as quickly as possible. The parent helpline, Parentline, will also provide information for parents searching for childcare.
A significant funding package is being developed to support the measures outlined above, taking account of the wider financial support available as part of the national response to COVID-19. We will share further information on this as it becomes available.
Advice and guidance
For advice and guidance on any issues relating to childcare, or the financial support available, call our Family Benefits Advice Service on 0800 028 3008 or email email@example.com – it’s free, impartial and confidential.