This article was last updated on 18 May 2020.
Like schools, childcare settings are playing a key role in the response to the coronavirus outbreak. The Welsh Government has told childcare providers they should remain open only for children of parents whose role is critical to dealing with coronavirus and for vulnerable children.
Suspension of Childcare Offer
The Welsh Government has temporarily replaced its usual Childcare Offer with a Childcare Coronavirus Assistance Scheme.
Under the Childcare Offer, working parents receive up to 30 hours of government-funded early education and childcare for 3 and 4 year olds. However, due to the social distancing measures introduced in Wales and other parts of the UK, the number of children attending childcare settings should be kept to an absolute minimum. The Welsh Government has therefore decided to suspend the Childcare Offer for a period of three months from 1 April to ‘focus [its] resources on supporting the childcare needs of critical workers’.
Childcare Coronavirus Assistance Scheme
The Welsh Government is funding childcare costs for pre-school children (children aged from 0 to 5 years) of key workers as well as childcare for vulnerable children. To be eligible, the childcare must be with a registered provider and parents can apply for the free provision through their local Family Information Service.
However, even key workers should only send their children to childcare if they cannot do their job at home and cannot put in place safe alternative childcare arrangements.
There is guidance for both childcare providers and parents on how the Childcare Coronavirus Assistance Scheme will work. The scheme will last for an initial three months, when the situation will be reviewed by the Welsh Government.
Support and guidance for childcare settings
Where children were already eligible for and enrolled on the Childcare Offer prior to 18 March, the Welsh Government is continuing to pay for the hours of childcare booked under the Offer for a period of three months. This is even if children do not attend or where the setting has to close on medical advice or due to insufficient staffing.
The Welsh Government has issued guidance on support for childcare providers and for childcare staff, including details of the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Our other articles on the impact of coronavirus on employment and businesses give more information.
Health and well-being guidance to schools on how to manage social distancing amongst children also applies to childcare settings. The guidance recognises that social distancing within childcare settings with very young children will be difficult to maintain. Staff have been advised to implement the social distancing measures as far as they are able, whilst ensuring children are kept safe and well cared for within their settings.
As critical workers, childcare staff may be eligible for a test to detect whether they currently have coronavirus under the Welsh Government’s policy on a needs based approach testing criteria for NHS and non-NHS key workers. However,
unless explicitly indicated Critical Workers (or a household member) will only be tested if they are symptomatic. Workers (or a household member) who have been sent for testing or tests have been requested for them and they are not symptomatic will not be tested.
Other guidance for childcare providers is available from Care Inspectorate Wales.
Temporary relaxation of requirements on childcare settings
The Welsh Government has said it will allow the temporary relaxation of certain requirements on childcare settings. It says this is to support the availability of essential provision in what are challenging circumstances. Such relaxations will require the approval of the relevant local authority.
The National Minimum Standards for Regulated Childcare (PDF) stipulate staffing ratios that are required in registered childcare settings. New Welsh Government guidance states that these ratios may be temporarily relaxed as follows.
In day care settings:
- 3-7 year olds: The required ratio for one adult to eight children may be relaxed to one adult to ten children.
- 8-12 year olds: The requirement for one adult to ten children may be relaxed to one adult to twelve children.
- The required ratio of no more than six children under the age of 8 years old may be relaxed to enable a child minder to look after up to ten children aged 5 to 7. (10 children per child minder is the maximum allowed in the case of children under the age of 12.)
- The required ratios for children aged under 5 are unchanged.
The Welsh Government has published guidance on how the temporary changes affect local authorities and childcare providers.
Moving out of lockdown
The Welsh Government has set out a ‘traffic light’ approach to lifting lockdown, including increasing numbers of children in childcare (Amber) before all children can access provision (Green). However, the Welsh Government has not given any anticipated dates for such changes and said this will depend on the level of the coronavirus transmission rate (R).
More detail is given in the Welsh Government’s decision framework for the next phase of education and childcare, while one of our other articles discusses how Wales and other UK nations plan to exit lockdown more generally.
The Children, Young People and Education Committee is currently gathering views on the impact of the pandemic on children and young people. The Committee has written to the Welsh Government (PDF) following recent evidence sessions with Ministers.
Article by Michael Dauncey, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales
We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.
You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.