Support for vulnerable children and children of key workers
Some children and young people rely upon the care and protection provided by childcare settings in relation to a range of specific circumstances.
Local authorities (including through joint working between Chief Social Work Officers and Directors of Education) and childcare settings should ensure and prioritise continued care and support for these children during the period 26 December 2020 to 31 January 2021. In doing so, they should consider how best to apply the definitions below whilst balancing the overarching policy aims of reducing the number of children and staff who need to attend settings in person as far as possible.
Vulnerable children and children of key workers may continue to access childcare services in nurseries and other childcare providers in accordance with their normal pattern of attendance. This includes:
- benefiting from funded early learning and childcare entitlement
- continuing to access privately paid for childcare according to usual demand.
Individual nursery and other childcare settings should determine eligibility to continue attending childcare services, and this guidance is provided to aid that decision. All settings should be mindful that the purpose of these restrictions is to reduce households mixing as far as possible in order to suppress the virus and take firm preventative measures, particularly in light of the new variant of COVID-19 identified.
Vulnerable children and young people – definition
Children and young people may be vulnerable because of factors related to their personal development, features of their family life, or because of wider influences that impact on them within their community.
Those children who were considered to be vulnerable prior to the pandemic should have been known to services, and are likely to have had a child’s plan. The pandemic has brought others into this category, for example through loss of family income.
Children who are eligible for a funded 2 year old place can continue to access provision, even if they do not strictly meet the definition of vulnerable children.
It will be the decision of individual providers to ensure that children who attend are those of key workers, vulnerable children, or children who are eligible for a funded 2 year old place.
Where a child requires co-ordinated support from more than one agency, this is likely to suggest greater vulnerability, and the plan would be co-ordinated by a lead professional. This would include a range of children and young people, such as those:
- at risk of harm, with a child protection plan
- looked after at home, or away from home including kinship care
- ‘on the edge of care’, where families would benefit from additional support
- with additional support needs, where there are one or more factors which require significant or co-ordinated support
- affected by
- where they and/or their parents are experiencing poor physical or mental health
- adversities including domestic abuse and bereavement
- requiring when they are involved in making transitions at critical stages in their lives.
Children and families may also experience adversity because of the impact of poverty and disadvantage, and many will be facing this because of the necessary measures to respond to the pandemic. This will include families with loss of income, experiencing social isolation, or otherwise struggling because of the restrictions.
Decision making for this group
Local authorities and health boards, working with partners including third sector organisations, will either know or be able to identify the children and families within their areas who are potentially at risk and therefore need additional support. The need for additional support can be identified prior to birth, so this should include help for pregnant women.
Crucially, vulnerability is not an exclusive concept, but should take account of all of these factors and others, that means that a child and family may need additional support. The judgement of the children’s sector professionals – critically those working most closely with the family – will be paramount in assessing vulnerability.
Those who work directly with children and young people are best placed to identify children and young people who will require support in order to ensure their wellbeing, as a result of these exceptional phased opening arrangements.
As noted above, when determining which vulnerable children should attend in person, local authorities and childcare settings should have regard to the overarching policy aim of these exceptional setting closures, which is to reduce the number of children, young people and adults from different households interacting in-person within communities (including in childcare settings) as far as possible, in order to prevent COVID-related harms. If it is possible for children to be cared for safely and have their learning and wellbeing supported sufficiently well at home, that approach should be preferred.
Named Person (key point of contact) service
Named persons as key points of contact are a very important first response for vulnerable children (as defined above).
Local authorities will consider how best to continue to provide key points of contact during the period from 26 December to 31 January 2021.
Support for children of key workers
The definitions of key workers agreed with local authorities previously during the pandemic will continue to apply. The need for local flexibility to suit local circumstances is acknowledged.
There be a particular focus on key workers in posts which ensure that essential services can be delivered and cover tasks within the local community which support the vulnerable and aid community resilience. This may be slightly different in each community to allow the country to address local priorities. Whilst decisions will be taken at the local level, we would expect this to include consideration of:
- Category 1 – Health and Care workers directly supporting COVID response, and associated staff; Health and Care workers supporting life threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision; Energy suppliers (small numbers identified as top priority already); staff providing childcare/learning for other category 1 staff.
- Category 2 – All other Health and Care workers, and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services (for example: fire, police, prisons, social workers), as well as those supporting our Critical National Infrastructure, without whom serious damage to the welfare of the people of Scotland could be caused.
- Category 3 – All workers (private, public or third sector) without whom there could be a significant impact on Scotland (but where the response to COVID-19, or the ability to perform essential tasks to keep the country running, would not be severely compromised).
For the avoidance of doubt, during these exceptional arrangements we would expect that education and staff providing daycare of children’s services, including early learning and childcare, who are required to attend their work in person would qualify as category 1 or 2 key workers. Wider groups of healthcare workers who have been brought in to support vaccination rollout and Test and Protect would also be expected to qualify under category 1.
While there are differences between the current situation and the previous strict lockdown (from March 2020), it is now necessary to limit household contacts by reducing numbers attending childcare settings as much as possible while still enabling essential childcare support for key workers. The following key principles should be applied by local authorities and settings, and communicated clearly to parents and carers:
- There should be clarity on the way in which key workers or their employers can apply for places in childcare settings.
- Only those children that meet the criteria (i.e. those that are vulnerable or are the children of keyworkers as defined in this guidance) should be offered a place within childcare settings.
- Only key workers who are physically attending their workplace or who cannot fulfil their critical functions when working remotely may qualify for places.
- Where alternative options are available – e.g. where childcare can be provided or supported by one non-key-worker parent or carer who is able to work from home – these should be used instead of attending childcare settings in person. Consideration should be given to ensuring application of this approach does not limit the ability of health and care staff (in category 1) to support the COVID-19 response during this period of acute pressure.
- If it is possible for children to be at home during this exceptional period, until settings reopen more fully to them, then they should be.
- Decisions should be taken based on the circumstances of individual families. Whole workforces or entire groups of staff should not be designated as key workers. Doing so would undermine the collective effort we must all make to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives during this period of strict lockdown.
Advice for employed parents and carers
The following advice is for employed parents or carers who are considering applying for a space in a childcare setting for their child during this exceptional period on the basis that they are key workers.
During this period of strict lockdown, employed parents and carers should first talk to their employer if they are an employee and they believe:
- they are a key worker
- it is absolutely necessary for them to attend their place of work to fulfil their critical functions; and
- they have no access to appropriate alternative childcare arrangements. Alternative childcare arrangements may include informal childcare or accessing a childminding service (which remain open to all children at present). See Parent Club for further information on informal childcare.
You can then make appropriate decisions about whether childcare is required and how to apply for a place, drawing on guidance from your provider.
Employees may also seek advice and support from their trade union in these matters.
Advice for employers of parents and carers
The following advice is for employers who believe their employees may be key workers and are considering supporting them to apply for a space in a childcare setting for their child during this exceptional period on that basis.
During this period of strict lockdown, employers should:
- only contact the relevant local authority or childcare setting to support the case for key worker designation for an employee who meets the relevant criteria if that has been requested by the parent or carer;
- think critically about what staff they consider to be key workers and prioritise those providing absolutely essential services to the public in these emergency times;
- revisit work with unions and workers to identify only the absolute minimum number of staff performing essential roles to deliver the COVID-19 response and provide basic, safe services;
- reduce in-person staffing levels to the lowest possible number required to maintain the production of essential goods;
- have discussions with staff to identify if they can access any appropriate alternative childcare or remote learning arrangements. This may include another parent/carer who is not a key worker and is able to provide such support effectively from home. Alternative childcare arrangements may include informal childcare or accessing a childminding service (which remain open to all children at present).
Where it is requested by the parent or carer, you can then support your employee to make appropriate decisions about whether and how to apply for a place, drawing on guidance.
Please contact your local authority for information about the arrangements they have in place. Further information: contact details for your local authority.
Complex queries and issues regarding key worker access to childcare
The main port of call to resolve any issues or challenges over key worker status should always be the provider concerned, which may be a local authority. Consideration is being given with local government to any further requirement for support and co-ordination regarding complex queries and issues relating to key worker status.