The provision of critical childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic and the re-opening of registered childcare.
Title of policy: The provision of critical childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic and the re-opening of registered childcare.
Summary of aims and desired outcomes of policy: To enable children to access childcare options safely in order to support their learning and wellbeing (both during lockdown for those accessing critical childcare and once registered settings re-opened); to support families to continue or return to work and other responsibilities; to support the childcare workforce to work in a safe environment.
Directorate: Division: Team: Directorate for Early Learning and Childcare
Background – Entering lockdown
As part of the Scottish Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Deputy First Minister announced on 19 March 2020 that all local authority schools and childcare settings in Scotland, including childminders, would close from the end of Friday 20 March 2020. Childcare providers in the private and third sector were advised they should also close.
Critical childcare was made available by all local authorities for children and families who were most in need from Monday 23 March. This included provision for the children of keyworkers and for children who local authorities considered would benefit from access due to a broad definition of vulnerability.
The workforce across school education and childcare stepped up to support children and young people through these challenging times. However, the closure of children's usual childcare settings will have had an immediate impact on all aspects of children's progress and development, and their health and wellbeing, both physical and mental.
Although we have limited information on the views of young children, we have some information from older children through the work of the Children's Parliament with children aged between 8 and 14:
The period of lockdown has shifted the balance of children's lives - not going to school, meeting friends or taking part in activities means that family time and relationships become even more central. Most children are safe and happy at home but for those children who are not, the experience of lockdown may intensify concerns or worries.
For parents, the experience of childcare closures alongside employment uncertainty and concern about the public health emergency brings particular challenges, with women experiencing disproportionate negative impacts:
The impacts of COVID-19 are being felt by us all, with huge changes transpiring across our working lives and beyond. At this stage, coronavirus is not just a health crisis, but an economic crisis that will have long-term implications. The longer-term consequences will impact women's equality by exacerbating pre-existing inequalities….
For the childcare workforce, the last few months will have presented different challenges. For some, they will have significantly refocussed their work to care for the children who have most needed support at this time, in critical childcare hubs. For others, they will have been furloughed and unable to connect with their professional community and the children and families they care for. Returning to their usual workplace may hold excitement but also possible anxiety:
Working in the hub at the beginning did cause a little anxiety, as the virus was very out there. Communication was key with staff, and I feel it boosted staff morale which helped to create a positive ethos for staff, parents and children.
As set out in the Scotland's Route Map through and out of the crisis:
COVID-19 is first and foremost a public health crisis, and the measures to combat it have been necessary to save lives. But those measures also cause harm, and can have the most negative impacts on some people in our society least able to withstand them. We are learning that the harms caused by the pandemic are not felt equally.
Our response to this pandemic must recognise these unequal impacts. Just as we have sought to shield those most at risk, we must continue to provide additional support for those who need it and seek to advance equality and protect human rights, including children's rights, in everything we do.
Decisions on closure and re-opening of childcare services have been informed by scientific advice and discussion and agreement through a number of groups. For childcare, the main fora for decision-making have been the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) work streams, specifically those on critical childcare and early learning and childcare (ELC); and through the Working Group on ELC and Childcare Recovery. Further information on the key groups are set out here.
The Scottish Government COVID-19 Advisory Group was established in March 2020 to:
- apply the advice from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) and other appropriate sources of evidence and information; and
- use it to inform local decisions in Scotland during the pandemic.
- This includes providing insight and modelling to Ministers and the COVID-19 Education Recovery Group.
The COVID-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) was established in April 2020 to support government decision making by providing insight into the practicalities around re-opening schools and childcare. The group has been supported by ten work-streams, which draw on expertise from key stakeholders across the sectors, to recognise and respond to multiple factors that have already affected or will affect children and young people, families and the education workforce. These include:
- the impact of closures and lockdown more broadly.
- the process of re-opening settings and the necessary steps to do so.
- supporting the sectors to ensure that when face-to-face contact resumes, that it is done safely.
As scientific evidence evolved on when it may be safe to start to return to settings, the CERG worked alongside government officials to develop a practical staged framework for re-opening. This 'Strategic framework for reopening schools, early learning and childcare provision' was published on 23 May 2020.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children's Issues was convened in June 2020 as a sub-group of the COVID-19 Advisory Group. It was established to provide increased resource on scientific advice for education and children's issues.
Scientific data and guidance continues to evolve and the Scottish Government has continued to adapt its approach accordingly. Due to the ongoing suppression of the virus, at the time of writing, all Care Inspectorate registered childcare settings ("registered settings") have been able to re-open from 15 July. The first set of guidance on this was published in June and updated with the most up-to-date scientific advice.
The Working Group on ELC and Childcare Sector Recovery was created to provide support to the childcare sector through the relevant representative bodies, in response to the needs brought about by COVID-19. The group's work sits within the wider architecture of the CERG and the Critical Childcare and ELC workstreams and is designed to ensure that the private, third and childminding sectors are able to input into the work of the workstreams.
The work of the group has primarily been focussed on helping to shape guidance and formulate support to the childcare sector through the provision of expert advice. Early Years Scotland and the Scottish Government provide the formal link between this group and the CERG workstreams.
This document has been developed at an early stage of re-opening childcare services. It aims to assess the impact of actions taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020 to the start of re-opening of all registered childcare settings from 15 July. The document covers: the provision of critical childcare and the re-opening of registered childcare (ELC, school age childcare, childminders and fully outdoor settings).
Due to the need for registered childcare to close quickly, it was not possible to proactively assess the impact of closures. Re-opening has been led by scientific advice on risks to public health. In this sense these have not been active policy decisions on childcare specifically but on the safety of paused activities resuming.
This assessment is therefore to collate in one place our understanding of the impact of the steps we have taken at a national level, and to inform any future decision making for similar events at a local or national level. It builds on the earlier publication of an initial impact assessment which supported the strategic framework for re-opening schools and early learning and childcare settings.
As there has been limited opportunity to gather views and input from wider stakeholders (beyond those involved in CERG workstreams and the Working Group on ELC and Childcare Sector Recovery), we will keep this document open for comment and review.
This document does not consider the decision to pause the statutory implementation of the expansion of the funded ELC entitlement to up to 1140 hours a year. A brief consideration of impacts is set out in the policy note accompanying the revocation order. We will provide an updated suite of impact assessments on the 1140 expansion programme when we re-lay the order to restore the statutory increase in hours.
This document considers the impact on children, their families and the childcare workforce. It covers the scope of:
A Children's Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA)
The document considers the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the child wellbeing indicators under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. These apply to all children and young people up to the age of 18, including non-citizen and undocumented children and young people.
An Equalities Impact Assessment (EQIA)
In line with The Equality Act (2010), the EQIA element considers the impact of the outlined policy decisions on the nine protected characteristics.
An Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA)
Considers impacts on those living in island communities.
A Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment (FSDA)
Reflecting the Scottish Government's commitment to Fairer Scotland Duty Assessments since April 2018, this document considers how socio-economic disadvantage may impact on the experiences of people affected by these decisions.