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Early childhood education and care service operations

Overview of early childhood education and service operations during coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVIDSafe Summer

COVIDSafe Summer restrictions are now in place across Victoria until at least the end of January 2021.

There are a number of restrictions relevant to early childhood education and care (ECEC) services,  including long day care, family day care and integrated and sessional kindergarten programs. For more information visit: COVIDSafe Summer in early childhood education and care services.

Onsite learning

ECEC services with a COVIDSafe Plan are open for all children, with appropriate risk mitigation measures in place (unless instructed by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to close).

This includes kindergarten, long day care, family day care, and outside school hours care (OSHC) in Term 4, only if they are eligible to attend school.

Children who are enrolled in more than one service, for example a long day care centre and sessional kindergarten service, may attend both.

The continued advice from the Victorian Chief Health Officer and the Victorian Government is that ECEC services remain safe for staff and children.

ECEC services are low-risk environments. It's important that children can attend their early learning program on-site, if possible.

For children who are not attending services on-site, providers should make reasonable efforts to engage with families and support learning from home, in line with the families’ individual circumstances and resources.

If you're a kindergarten provider having staffing difficulties for unavoidable reasons (such as staff on medical absence), you should call our dedicated coronavirus (COVID-19) phone advice line on 1800 338 663 to discuss your situation.

Outside school hours care and vacation care

Outside school hours care (OSHC) may operate before and after school and summer holiday programs, following public health directions and applying the operational health and safety advice to schools.

OSHC providers must operate consistent with their service approval. If a variation to a service approval is required, contact the Regulatory Authority's advice line on 1300 307 415.

For funding queries, school councils that are OSHC providers are advised to contact the Commonwealth Government by email ccshelpdesk@dese.gov.au or call 1300 667 276.

For all other queries, schools are advised to contact our dedicated coronavirus (COVID-19) phone advice line during business hours on 1800 338 663.

Providing education and care to school-aged children

We understand some long day care services are offering education and care to school-aged children. While this is permitted under the National Quality Framework, services need to ensure the premises is adequate and suitable for school-aged children. This includes having access to adequate toilet facilities and age-appropriate equipment and resources.

Services are also required to ensure appropriate supervision, protection from harm and hazards, and provide educational programs tailored to meet the needs of school-aged children.

For further information, contact Quality Assessment and Regulation Division (QARD) on 1300 307 415.

COVIDSafe Workplaces

There are requirements for businesses to remain operational, including having a COVIDSafe Plan.

Visit COVIDSafe Workplaces for more information or phone our dedicated coronavirus (COVID-19) phone advice line. This is available during business hours on 1800 338 663.

Child-free days

It's up to each provider to make decisions about having a child-free day or days, talking to and working with staff and their community.

Taking a small number of child-free days is entirely consistent with the conditions attached to both normal and additional sessional kindergarten funding provided by the Victorian Government, which requires services to be open for families who wish to attend.

The Department has relaxed the requirement to deliver 600 hours across the year, so this is not an obstacle to a small number of additional child-free days for improving delivery and support.

Service operating hours

Where services were operating staggered starts, they can now resume regular arrival and departure arrangements. However, families are required to maintain 1.5 metres between each other as far as is practicable at the start and end of the program.

Cleaning

Ensure regular environmental cleaning throughout the day, through maintaining full adherence to the NHMRC childcare cleaning guidelines, and:

  • cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces at least twice daily (for example, play gyms, tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, sinks).  It is not necessary to clean or disinfect surfaces after every use but they should be cleaned and disinfected as soon as possible if visibly soiled
  • disinfect shared objects between uses where possible
  • washing and laundering play items and toys including washable plush toys, as appropriate, in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely

Consider adjusting how families, staff and children interact within the built environment to reduce contact with certain surfaces. For example, a simple measure such as one staff member opening the door to the service will reduce the need for multiple people to touch the door handle.

Use no-contact infrastructure (for example, use door jams to avoid opening/closing doors as much as possible).

Clean shared sign-in equipment (tablets, pens) regularly and between users where possible.

Hand hygiene

Ensure all staff and children have easy access to hand hygiene facilities, where possible.

Provide soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, to encourage regular hand hygiene practice.

Consider the placement of hand hygiene stations. Place these at the entry to a service or learning space at an appropriate height to ensure use and safety.  Ensure that hand sanitiser is stored out of reach of very young children to avoid accidental ingestion.  

Outdoor air ventilation

Keep windows open where possible.

Maximise opportunities to use outdoor learning areas or environments.

Wherever possible, and where you have enough staffing for adequate supervision, consider operating an indoor/outdoor program.

Do not run air conditioners on recirculate.

Ensure any air conditioners or heaters are well maintained.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) eLearn module

A eLearn module ‘School and early childhood infection prevention and control during coronavirus (COVID-19)’ is available on FUSE.

The module provides facts, practical strategies and information about the precautions that can be taken to reduce risk while at work. The module will take approximately 20-30 minutes to complete and covers:

  • modes of transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • key risk factors
  • standard infection prevention precautions
  • correct use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • how to protect yourself and others

Completing this module should acquit requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act 2004 (Vic) to provide employees with training to perform their work safely.

Meeting educator-to-child ratios and qualification requirements

The educator-to-child ratios under the National Quality Framework have not changed, although flexibility is being provided on qualification levels.

You may apply for a service waiver (for ongoing issues) or temporary waiver (for issues that can be addressed within 12 months) due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Waivers are important for supporting education and care services to maintain their level of service to families during unforeseen circumstances while protecting the safety, health and wellbeing of children.

Waivers can be sought for staffing qualifications. A detailed list of requirements which may be waived can be found in the Guide to National Quality Framework - Waivers.

To apply for a waiver, log onto the National Quality Agenda IT Service portal. The Department will not charge an application fee for waivers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In the current circumstances, services should take all reasonable steps to meet the ratios and qualification requirements.

Services must ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of all children being educated and cared for by the service.

This includes:

  • providing adequate supervision
  • taking adequate precautions to protect all children from harm or hazards likely to cause injury
  • conducting a risk assessment to inform decision making
  • designing and delivering an educational program that meets the needs of each child and addresses current circumstances
  • centre-based services
  • funded kindergarten programs​​​

The role of an early childhood teacher may be filled by an educator actively working towards or holding a diploma level qualification, in extenuating circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Where services are unable to meet the requirements of the educator to child ratios (not the qualification requirements), they must notify the Regulatory Authority.

Notifications for National Quality Framework services should be made through the National Quality Agenda IT System.

Notifications for children's services should be made by email: licensed.childrens.services@edumail.vic.gov.au

Mixed age educator to child ratios

In calculating educator to child ratios, ratio requirements are determined by the age and number of children the service is educating and caring for at any one time.

Staffing and educator to child ratio information is available for:

You can also read more about early childhood teachers in centre-based services.

The educator to child ratio calculator can help you calculate mixed age ratios.

Food and supplies of high-demand items

The Victorian Government is working closely with retailers to help provide essential supplies such as food, nappies and sanitiser to early learning services.

We're aware that there is high demand for hygiene supplies. Suppliers have been asked to prioritise early childhood services, noting health services and residential care facilities are the top priorities.

Both Woolworths and Coles have confirmed that education providers will be considered a priority and eligible to register for their respective online ordering service. Availability and lead time on arrival of supplies will vary. Similar services are likely to be available from other retail stores.

We know that some larger ECEC providers have also successfully sourced supplies from wholesale providers who ordinarily service the hospitality industry. This information is being shared with peak bodies.

If a lack of essential supplies is threatening the continued operation of your service in accordance with health guidance, contact the Department's advice line on 1800 338 663.

Reviewed 08 January 2021

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