The decision to require the closure of childcare settings – other than for the provision of critical childcare for key worker families and vulnerable children – has had an impact on the lives of children and families throughout Scotland. There was little time to prepare, or scope to explain, the changes to our youngest children. Their relationships and friendships were abruptly interrupted as well as their learning.
We know there are challenges in delivering services after a turbulent break and in the evolving COVID-19 situation in Scotland. In line with Realising the Ambition, our focus must be on supporting children to form a secure and emotionally resilient attachment base which will stand them in good stead as they grow and develop. Nurturing and attached relationships are essential to creating the conditions for children to flourish in childcare.
All children have a right to play, to learn and to access experiences that meet their physical, social, emotional and cultural needs, and they have a right to associate with their peers. In line with Scotland's commitment to Getting It Right For Every Child, children also have the right to the best possible health, with their best interests a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect them. Adults, of course, also have fundamental rights in relation to their health and wellbeing. These important rights and considerations have all been factored into the development of a framework for reopening and delivering ELC and school-aged childcare services.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues reviewed the evidence on transmission and infection in Scotland, as well the impact of the new variants of the Coronavirus, at its meetings on 26 January and on 1 February. At both meetings the sub-group reviewed evidence on: the state of the epidemic in Scotland; transmission among young children and in ELC settings; and the wider impacts of the current restrictions on children and families. The sub-group advice is that, subject to a continued decrease in the levels of community transmission and in the prevalence of the virus, ELC could reopen in full from 22 February. This means that larger childminding settings, currently caring for 12 or more children at a time, may from the 22 February plan for all children under school age to return to their setting. In relation to children of school-age, attendance must continue to be limited to those children of key workers and vulnerable children according to the supplementary guidance.
Evidence continues to confirm that younger children are at lower risk of transmission and of clinical disease from COVID-19 than are older children and adults. There is no evidence of any difference in the risk of severe COVID-19 among pre-school, primary and secondary school teachers, relative to other adults of a similar age. The decision to re-open ELC to all children also reflects the crucial role that ELC plays in supporting children’s development, and the challenge of delivering this crucial support remotely. While we continue to make progress in suppressing the virus, we must recognise that returning to previously low levels will likely take some more weeks. Childminding settings must therefore place very high priority on reinforcing the mitigations set out in this guidance.
Following the First Minister’s announcement that ELC settings can re-open to all children from 22 February, the advisory sub-group met again on 9 February to consider whether any of the risk mitigations set out in previous versions of this guidance should be strengthened. The sub-group’s advice was that there is no need adjust the key mitigations, including physical distancing and the use of face coverings, but that there should be greater support for implementation and understanding among staff, parents and providers of what is required. This guidance has therefore been updated to further clarify expectations. Childminding settings should place the highest priority on reviewing risk assessments and ensuring that all appropriate mitigations are in place and implemented. To help ensure a safe return to childminding, every possible step should be taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and staff.
This guidance provides principles to help you make decisions based on the best available evidence to help you operate in a changed context. It will not provide the specific answer to every circumstance which may arise, but it will provide the basis on which you can use your professional judgement to make a decision. Please also be aware that public health advice may evolve over time, and you should check online to make sure you are working to the most recent version of this guidance.
Updates since the previous version
The key updates to the guidance in version 7 are as follows but there have been some minor changes elsewhere and some changes to ordering. Childminders are encouraged to read the guidance in full:
- changes to the introduction to reflect the advice from the Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues on re-opening ELC to all children
- the addition of a link to an accompanying FAQ document (see section 2)
- an update on the strategic framework (section 3)
- an emphasis on the need for clearly defined training sessions for any assistants on the risk mitigations set out in this guidance and being implemented in the setting
- new section on access to asymptomatic testing for childminders (further updated on 5 March 2021)
- a requirement that inductions for new assistants must include guidance on the setting’s infection prevention and control measures
- further guidance on risk assessments and a requirement that these be reviewed regularly and in the context of the re-opening of ELC to all children
- added emphasis that all COVID-19 guidance, including the advice on shielding applies even in the context of the vaccine
- advice for family members of people on the shielding list
- an update on the advice on attending ELC that has been provide to children who are shielding
- reference to the UK Government Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for pregnant employees
- where to find advice on detergents/ cleaning products
- new content on the use of fog, mist, vapour or UV (ultraviolet) treatments (in the section on enhanced cleaning procedures)
- reminder that internal fire doors should never be held open to promote ventilation (unless assessed and provided with appropriate hold open and self-closing mechanisms which respond to the actuation of the fire alarm system)
- reminder that risk assessments should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis to take account of changing circumstances, including seasonal changes in relation to ventilation and heating/warm
- extensive revision to the section on outbreak and case management
- further clarity on self-isolation requirements
- new section to encourage settings to maintain as much consistency as possible among adults who work in close proximity when planning working patterns for any assistants
- reminder that the requirement to physically distance applies during breaks and outside of the work environment, including traveling to and from the service as well as while any assistants are on duty
- further reinforcement of the guidance on the use of face coverings to reduce the risk of adult to adult transmission
- further reminders that any adult who wishes to wear face coverings when working closely with children should be supported to do this
- reminder that parents/carers and older children and young people should be discouraged from gathering outside the setting
- new section to make clear that visits to the setting should be avoided unless necessary
- guidance that the use of blended placements be reviewed on a case-by-case basis
- up-date to the section on financial impact