Childcare providers across England are facing ongoing confusion about whether their settings should open or stay closed from Monday in England. The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) has received queries from childcarers as Sheffield and Lancashire are among the councils issuing guidance to remain closed whilst Government guidance is to begin the phased opening of schools and early years settings from 1 June in England.
PACEY is calling on the Department for Education (DfE) to urgently clarify what this local advice means for thousands of registered childcare and early education providers who are privately, independently or voluntarily run.
Liz Bayram, PACEY chief executive, said: “Parents with jobs are planning their return to workplaces on Monday using childcare services that they’ve have been working with so their children have a calm and settled transition after weeks of being at home. These last minute changes at a local level are placing children, parents and providers under significant stress.
“We urgently need DFE to work with local authorities to better plan and co-ordinate what we know maybe necessary local lockdowns in the future. These confused mixed message just won’t work and risk public confidence. Today some local authorities are asking their schools to stay closed but giving no advice to early education and childcare settings; some are telling both to remain closed. This is all whilst national guidance says to reopen.
“Childcare and early years providers are mainly small businesses or self-employed childminders. Their livelihoods are already under threat and this lack of clarity is helping no one. Our members have been asking what they should do – they are unclear about whether their insurance is valid if they reopen when their local authority is advising them not to.
“Until there is a joined up approach to local lockdowns we are telling members to follow national guidance as that is what our insurers have said. Local authorities cannot enforce their guidance on private businesses but this of course is worrying many providers and families. Providers in these areas should contact their local authority early years team to seek clarification and talk to their families. Working with parents to decide if they want to return or not, reminding them of all the controls they will have in place to reduce risk to their children, their family and their own staff is most likely the best place to start. If not, even if settings do open they may find the local authority guidance has frightened some parents into deciding to stay home for longer.”
The call for clarification comes when on the same day PACEY has published the results of a survey of parents which shows that 48% said they are either not planning on sending their child back to a childcare setting or haven’t yet decided. The survey reveals a high level of anxiety amongst parents with 60% saying they are worried about their child’s health and 70% concerned that social distancing measures can’t be enforced with children.
For 17% of parents, living with a vulnerable person is the reason they are choosing to keep their child at home. The media also has a role to play with 24% saying that news reports worried them.
When parents were asked how they would manage childcare, 85% said they would continue to look after them at home themselves, but worryingly one in ten are turning to grandparents/family members for childcare.
“We are calling for much-needed clarity and reassurance to both parents and childcarers so that we can help childcarers to sustain their businesses and parents to return to work. The fact that parents are scared to send their children to a childcare provider, who has carried the necessary risk assessments and has policies and procedures in place to maintain that child’s safety; and instead are turning to family members, is very concerning.”