Limiting children's contacts
Reducing the number of interactions that children and staff have is a key part of reducing risk in settings. This will reduce likelihood of direct transmission, and allow for more effective contact tracing through Test and Protect.
The experience of providers since reopening is that limiting interactions reduces the overall number who need to isolate in the event of a child or staff member becoming ill with COVID-19.
- Providers should consider carefully how to apply the principles in this section to their settings. Settings must apply proportionate, risk-based approaches to limiting contacts.
- Contacts must be limited by managing children within groups. Consistency of groups is important, and children should remain within the same groups wherever possible. More than one group can use a large space, but children should not mix freely with children in other groups, including in open plan settings. In such settings, the layout of the playroom should be carefully considered to allow groups to remain separate. Use of management approaches such as clearly allocated areas, or physical barriers such as furniture, etc. should be used to support separation of groups. The management of groups should reflect the circumstances of the setting.
- The appropriate size of groups will depend on the age and overall number of children, and the layout of the setting. The general approach should be to minimise the size of groups where possible. Large indoor groupings should be avoided. The Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues said:
“The evidence base and the advice of the Sub-Group would be to support a move to cohort sizes for children under five in line with those aged 5-12 assuming the level of infection remains low, appropriate surveillance, test and protect and all the other appropriate mitigations and measures are in place.”
- It would therefore be reasonable for children to be managed in groups up to the size encountered in primary school, for example no more than 25 to 33 children in any one group. The adult to child ratios in the national care standards must continue to apply. It is also worth noting that having larger group sizes will mean that more staff and children would be required to self-isolate in the event of anyone in the group testing positive. As well as reducing the risk of transmission, there will therefore be wider benefits of supporting children in smaller groups.
- The physical capacity of the setting may be affected by physical distancing requirements. Providers should review the layout of settings and consider how many children can be accommodated safely at any one time while meeting these requirements. This may be below the normal Care Inspectorate registered capacity of the setting based on current floor space requirements.
- Children are not required to physically distance from each other, or from adults. It is important for children to feel secure and receive warmth and physical contact that is appropriate to their needs, in particular when they are receiving personal care, need comforting or reassurance. Keyworkers will need to be close to the children, particularly young children and should feel confident to do so.
- Staff members should work with the same groups wherever possible. Limiting the number of children, and the number of groups that a staff member is in contact with is important. Where cover is required for breaks, toileting etc., this should be managed within the staff working with a particular group. If staff are, through necessity, to work with other groups, this should be for limited periods, with appropriate risk mitigation measures adopted. Staff should ensure strict hygiene practices are carried out if they are caring for different groups. Adults should seek to maintain at least a 2 metre physical distance from other adults at all times. Adults (except those who are medically exempt) must wear face coverings whenever it is not possible to maintain 2 metre distance.
- The minimum space standards for ELC settings should be in line with the early learning, childcare and out of school care services: design guidance. In addition to this, consideration should be given to what additional space may be required to manage children and staff’s contacts. A flexible approach to the use of all existing spaces within the setting should be considered.
- Consideration should be given to the removal of unnecessary items in the setting to maximise capacity and decrease the number of items requiring cleaning, while ensuring the children still have adequate resources and furnishings to support quality experiences.
- Sharing of resources should be minimised. Where resources are used by different groups (e.g. on a rotational basis), cleaning between uses in accordance with requirements in section 4.12 must be undertaken.
Limiting staff contact with each other
Just as reducing the number of interactions that children and staff have is a key part of reducing risk in settings, so too is reducing the number of interactions that staff have with each other.
When agreeing staff working patterns, settings are encouraged to maintain as much consistency as possible in the staff who work in close proximity, especially in areas where physical distancing is more challenging. While this may not always be possible, having the same groups of staff working together consistently across each week will reduce the risk of transmission among staff. It will also help to limit the number of staff who might need to self-isolate through Test and Protect.
Settings should also review use of peripatetic staff, to ensure that staff who by nature of their role support multiple settings only attend settings in person where it is demonstrably in support of the health and wellbeing of young children.