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Information about Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) for Education and Care Services


Children’s Education and Care Assurance (CECA) would like to reassure you that the Education Directorate continues to work closely with ACT Health, other states and territories and the Commonwealth Government to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the ACT Education and Care Sector.

At the moment, it is safe for children to be in education and care services in the ACT, including out of school hours and vacation care programs. The ACT Government is recommending, based on health advice, that education and care services remain open. Operational hours will vary from program to program, families should contact their education and care provider directly to find out current arrangements.

All education and care services are required to meet their obligations set out in the National Quality Framework External link icon(NQF).  Education and care services who are experiencing operational difficulties should contact CECA on (02) 6207 1114 or email ceca@act.gov.au for support.

Updated advice for education and care services (Current as of 21 July 2020)

On 20 July the ACT Government has updated a COVID-19 Public Health Direction, which now means that legal requirements are now in place for individuals returning to the ACT from Victoria external link icon and particular places in New South Wales external link icon to self-quarantine. Additional information is available on ACT Government’s COVID-19 webpage external link icon. For further assistance contact the ACT’s COVID-19 Helpline on (02) 6207 7244 between 8am and 8pm daily.

Health and hygiene measures

What hygiene and health information should education and care providers, services, educators, children and families understand during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Education and care services are well placed to maintain hygienic environments for children, families and staff.  Under the National Quality Framework education and care services are required to have existing policies and procedures external link icon to ensure that health and hygiene is maintained within their education and care setting.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, education and care services will need to employ additional strategies to suit their context and should review and update existing risk assessments for emergencies external link icon to include a response to COVID-19.

Education and care providers, services and educators should frequently check information on Australian Government and ACT Government websites which have been set up to provide the latest information about COVID-19 and hygiene measures. The evolving circumstances of COVID-19 in our community reinforces that all individuals should keep up to date with credible and consistent sources of information to make decisions.

The Australian Government Department of Health’s environmental cleaning and disinfectant principlesexternal link icon is available to assist with the need to increase cleaning and disinfecting processes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safework Australia has information to help minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for education and care service employees. Safework Australia have a dedicated Early Childhood Education Pack for providers, services and educators, providing further information about hygiene and infection control during COVID-19.

Education and care services may choose to utilise the Infection control during the COVID - 19 pandemic model policy MS Word File(19kb) and adapt this for use in the context of their setting.

On 6 April 2020 the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) released this statement external link iconabout COVID-19 in education and care services. On 25 May 2020 AHPPC provided further clarification to complement AHPPC’s statement for education and care services . The AHPPC confirm that the ‘venue density rule’ of no more than one person per four square metres is not appropriate or practical in education and care services, nor is maintaining 1.5 metres between children.

This advice applies to children interacting with other children, and also to adults providing care or interacting with children in this environment. However, adults must continue to undertake physical distancing when interacting with other adults, in areas such as staff rooms and when picking up or dropping off children.

The Australian Government Department of Health website external link iconincludes information on management of the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia as a health emergency. This page will be updated every day with the current situation, latest case numbers and related information.

The ACT Government has a dedicated websiteexternal link iconto providing access to ACT specific information relevant to COVID-19. Information includes advice and resources from ACT Health to help communicate good hygiene practices to your community.

An online infection control training moduleexternal link icon that covers the fundamentals of infection prevention and control for COVID-19 is also available. This non-compulsory module contains information about what COVID-19 is, signs and symptoms, keeping safe- protecting yourself and others and myth busting.

Further information about health and hygiene in education and care services is also available in the National Health and Medical Research Council publication, Staying healthy: Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services

When should an individual seek testing for COVID-19?

ACT Health has expanded COVID-19 testing encouraging all individuals in the Canberra community to get tested for COVID-19 if they present with a fever of 38 degrees or greater (or recent history of fever such as chills or night sweats) or a respiratory infection (such as shortness of breath, cough, or sore throat).

Any individual with a sudden onset of loss of smell, loss of taste, runny nose, muscle pain, joint pain, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite may be eligible for COVID-19 testing, after assessment by a health professional. Children and adults who develop any of these symptoms, are encouraged to seek medical advice from their GP or visit a Respiratory Assessment Clinic.

Early detection of cases helps to contain the potential spread and keep the community safe. Education and care communities should encourage families to keep up to date with the latest information about COVID-19 testing in the ACT. This can be found at on the ACT Government’s dedicated COVID-19 website.

Education and care service closures

Closure preparation

While ACT education and care services (service) are well placed to respond to COVID-19, providers, nominated supervisors, service leaders and educators should be prepared for the possible event where a child or staff member has a confirmed case of COVID-19.

To prepare for such an event provider, service leaders and nominated supervisors should:

Closure process

In the event that a service is required to close due to a confirmed case of COVID-19 the provider will be contacted directly by ACT Health. The decision to close a service will be made on the advice of ACT Health and the Chief Health Officer. ACT Health will advise the provider and service when it becomes aware that a child, staff member or other person has tested positive to COVID-19 and may have attended the service while infectious.

The provider, nominated supervisor and service leaders will need to work in collaboration with ACT Health and CECA to commence processes outline in the Notification decision action and recovery flowchart PDF File (239kb) this will include requirements for notifications, decisions, actions, stakeholder communication and the reopening of a service.

If a provider or service suspects that staff or children have been exposed to, or diagnosed with, COVID-19 they should contact ACT Health’s Communicable Disease Control Unit on (02) 5124 9213 for direction.

General information about COVID-19 can be accessed from the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 (operates 24 hours a day) and the ACT Government’s COVID-19 External Link website.

FAQ’s

How long will the service be closed for?

The length of time a service is closed will be decided on a case-by-case basis and on the expert advice of ACT Health.  The decision to re-open a service will be made when ACT Health deem it’s safe to do so.

The service has been closed, are children and staff at risk?

The health and safety of children, staff and families is paramount, and the steps recommended by ACT Health take a highly precautionary approach based on the latest and best medical advice.

ACT Health will work through a contact tracing process to identify and notifying any person who has been in close recent contact with an individual who has tested positive to COVID-19. Affected individuals will be supported to ensure they understand what actions are required.

What will happen if a close contact is identified in the service community?

ACT Health will work with the service to identify and notify any children, families, visitors and staff identified as having been in close contact with a confirmed case, providing further advice and direction.

The service has been closed. Can other activities, such as co-located outside school hours care (OSHC) or a school holiday program still operate?  

In the first instance, no other activities co-located with the service should continue until advised otherwise by the ACT Health.

The scope of the service closure will be decided on a case-by-case basis on the expert advice of ACT Health through the initial assessment and contact tracing process.

Where can I find more information about COVID-19 in the ACT?

Information about COVID-19 can be accessed from the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 (operates 24 hours a day) and the ACT Government’s COVID-19 External Link website.

Operational requirements

What governance arrangements should be in place during COVID-19?

Education and care services need to meet their legislative requirements under the National Quality Framework. Providers have an obligation to ensure that an education and care service has a responsible person present at all times. It is an offence External Linkunder Section 162 of the Education and Care Services National Law (Act) Act 2011External Linkto operate an education and cares service unless the responsible person is present. This person needs to have signed consent to be placed in this position as outlined in regulation 117AExternal Link.The minimum requirements for a responsible person or person in day-to-day charge are outlined in regulation 117BExternal Link . The staff record should hold further information about the responsible person as outlined in regulation
150External Link.

What should education and care services do if staff first aid qualifications expire and first aid training is not accessible?  

If staff have an existing first aid, anaphylaxis and asthma qualification that has recently expired the risk is reduced. Where possible online training should be used to maintain staff knowledge and currency. Rostering of staff should be reviewed to ensure that children have adequate access to staff who hold knowledge of first aid, anaphylaxis and asthma qualifications at any given time. Nominated supervisors and family day care coordinators need to consider strategies to maintain educator knowledge of emergency first aid management.  Any revised actions need to be recorded and available for CECA’s review. Additional information about renewing first-aid, anaphylaxis and asthma qualifications during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the ACECQAexternal link iconwebsite.

What if a family day care educator’s school age child needs to stay home from school and the required ratios cannot be maintained?

If educators choose to keep their children at home, they should communicate with their provider to discuss alternate arrangements to maintain the required ratios in a family day care setting.

When would an education and care service be required to close?

Education and care service closures will be determined on a case by case basis, including assessing any risks to the health, and welfare of staff and children. Approved providers can make the decision to close their service or they may be directed by ACT Health or CECA to do so. If a confirmed case of COVID-19 is identified at an education and care service, a representative of ACT Health’s Chief Health Officer will contact the provider.

The provider will need to work closely with ACT Health to commence the Notification, decision, action and recovery phase for their education and care service. CECA will provide assistance to each site as required.

If an approved provider closes an education and care service because of a confirmed COVID-19 case on the premises, or as a precaution, they must meet their infectious diseases and reporting responsibilities. Regulation 88 External Linkwhich requires education and care providers and services to:

  • Ensure that reasonable steps are taken to prevent the spread of the infectious disease at the service.
  • Ensure that a parent or an authorised emergency contact of each child being educated and cared for is notified of the occurrence as soon as practicable.
  • Follow directions from ACT Health regarding cleaning of the premises.

Any infectious disease should be notified to CECA and the ACT Health’s Communicable Disease Control Unit on (02) 5124 9213.

Providers and services should submit a notification to CECA using the National Quality Agenda IT System External Link(NQAITS) to meet notification requirementsExternal Link in addition to contacting CECA  on (02) 6207 1114 or email ceca@act.gov.au

How should education and care services manage lockdown and evacuation obligations?  

In the circumstances of COVID-19 education and care services need to modify typical evacuation and lockdown rehearsals to accommodate social distancing. Any changes to lockdown or evacuation schedules and procedures should be documented. Education and care services may wish to complete rehearsals in smaller groups or talk through the procedure with children and document this interim arrangement.

What should education and care services do if they have limited qualified staff as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Education and care services can apply for a temporary staffing waiver if they cannot meet qualification requirements. Adequate supervision of children must be maintained at all times.

Existing regulations have provisions in place for the replacement of qualified staff and early childhood teachers if they are absent or not working directly with children. Refer to regulations 264External Linkand 265External Link for transitional provisions for qualification requirements for centre based services for children of preschool age or under and to regulation 261(2)External Linkfor centre based services with children over preschool age.

If you need advice relevant to your setting or have any questions about staffing please contact CECA by phone on (02) 6207 1114 or email ceca ceca@act.gov.au

Excursions

Can education and care services recommence excursions?

Education and care services can recommence excursions within the community in line with current advice on use of public space and continuation of hygiene recommendations. Further details and the latest information about the use of public spaces and outdoor gatherings is available on the ACT Government COVID-19 website external link icon.

Providers, service leaders and educators should consider the context of their service and excursion requirements external link icon set out in the National Quality Framework.

Indoor excursions

CECA encourage limited excursions to indoor environments such as shopping centres and libraries, at this time. Providers and services are encouraged to consider the purpose of the excursion and conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to determine the health, safety and wellbeing risks to children, educators, parents and members of the community.

Family day care educators should adhere to the current advice on gathering limits in households. Family day care services that operate playgroups may do so in line with current advice on gathering limits for community facilities. It is unreasonable to expect children to be able to socially distance, however educators should maintain a 1.5 metre distance between themselves. Additional health and hygiene measures will need to be put in place to reduce the spread of infections.

Outdoor excursions

COVID-19 restrictions in the ACT allow for outdoor gatherings of a maximum of 200 people (including children) and increased access to public spaces such as playgrounds and parks.

CECA encourage excursions to outdoor public spaces including parks, nature reserves and playgrounds. Educators are requested to implement additional health and hygiene practices, including hand washing and/or hand sanitising; and disinfecting (wiping) touching points on playground equipment prior to playing.

In preparation for any excursion educators should reflect on intentional teaching opportunities and ways that can support children to talk about appropriate risk management. For example, educators could work with children to develop plans and strategies to manage hygiene and the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Strategies could include researching washroom facilitates in the area and preparing hygiene kits that include antibacterial wipes for equipment and rubbish disposal options.

Enrolments

How should education and care services respond to the competing enrolment priorities during COVID-19?

Education and care services should prioritise children who are vulnerable or have parents who are essential workers and children who had an existing enrolment prior to Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package. Services can continue to maximise options for families by adopting strategies such as reducing hours of care offered.

Can independent arrangements be made to care for children during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The concerns and uncertainty of education and care arrangements for children during COVID-19 exist in our community. CECA would like to remind everyone that it is an offence to operate an education and care service, also known as childcare unless the appropriate approvals have been sought from CECA.

Further information on the regulatory requirements for operating and establishing an education and care service can be found on the ACECQA External Link website.

CECA operations and support

What support is in place for education and care services?

Education and care services should work closely with their providers to access credible and consistent information for support and decision making. Education and care services need to meet their legislative requirements under the National Quality Framework.

CECA will be taking into consideration that education and care services are experiencing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Where possible education and care services should adapt their program and operations whilst prioritising the health, wellbeing and safety of children. For example, providers could source local suppliers to secure essential items such as cleaning and hygiene products and make amendments to include meals that are nutritious and consider current food availability.

If education and care services are experiencing operational difficulties, they should contact CECA on (02) 6207 1114 or email ceca@act.gov.au for support. This will enable the most effective arrangements to be put in place to meet the context of the setting. CECA may consider issuing waivers, amendments or conditions on approvals to assist education and care services to maintain operations.

To access additional support education and care services should consider connecting with organisations such as Early Childhood Australia External Link

How will CECA operate during the COVID-19 pandemic?

To support the education and care services CECA adapted its functions to support recovery of the sector and to transition back to CECA’s usual regulatory functions.

Support

A support team of Authorised Officers was established to:

  • conduct outreach with education and care services;
  • respond to queries from education and care services and families;
  • consider waiver applications, service approval amendments, suspensions or closure notifications;
  • work with individual education and care services to advise measures that will support their situation and continue to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children; and
  • provide support in event of service closure.

CECA’s communication functions were expanded to provide more frequent and detailed communications to education and care providers and services.

Capacity

The CECA prepared for the possibility of prolonged isolation. This planning includes the continuation of service for children of essential workers and children experiencing vulnerability.

Child Safety

CECA is aware that during times of crisis people who should not have access to children may try to take advantage of the situation. In addition, health emergencies can result in individuals displaying different responses. Individuals need to be mindful of their approach to ensure typical interactions with children are not compromised.

CECA is continuing to conduct risk audits and investigate matters, incidents and allegations relating to risk of harm to children.  Any reasonable suspicion of an offence will result in further action. CECA continue to work with key child protection agencies to ensure the safety of children through this period

For more advice about operational requirements during COVID-19 please call CECA’s on (02) 6207 1114 or email ceca@act.gov.au.

When will CECA’s standard regulatory functions recommence?

From 29 June 2020 CECA will implement a graduated return to standard regulatory functions.

Wellbeing Support Visits

Authorised Officers will commence Wellbeing Support visits to services from late June 2020. These visits are designed to provide support to services and to understand services’ current challenges.  Visits will also inform the preparedness of providers and services for recommencing assessment and rating.

Compliance Audits

CECA will also recommence compliance audits from early July 2020. Authorised Officers will contact providers and service leaders before a compliance audit to discuss the arrangements, and to ensure that the approach used is responsive to the current preparedness and circumstances of each service.

Physical Audits and Approvals

Physical audits and any on-site visits to assess approvals will be conducted by Authorised Officers in a way that reduces unnecessary face-to-face contact time. Email and teleconference options will be used where appropriate.

Investigations, Emergency Audits and Risk Audits

Investigations, Emergency Audits, and Risk Audits will continue to function as usual.  The choice of socially distanced methods or face-to-face methods will be determined on a case by case basis.

Assessment and Rating

Consideration will be given to the current circumstances and preparedness of each service prior to scheduling any assessment and rating process. Scheduled assessment and rating visits will recommence from approximately 29 July. This may include services who commenced an assessment and rating process prior to the impact of COVID-19 if those services are ready to continue.

Authorised Officers may use strategies to ensure appropriate physical distancing occurs between adults during educator and governance discussions. For example, in some circumstances, discussions may take place in open spaces rather than staff rooms or office spaces. As always, Authorised Officers will call providers and service leaders to discuss the arrangements prior to the assessment and rating visit.

Financial support

What financial support is available for education and care providers, services and educators? 

Like many sectors, COVID 19 poses significant challenges to the financial viability of education and care services. To assist education and care services to remain viable and operational during this challenging period, the Australian Government is making a range of provisions to support the sector. This includes support for a transition back to usual Family Assistance Law payment arrangements in the recovery from COVID 19.

The Commonwealth Government’s latest information response to COVID-19, can be found on Department of Education, Skills and Employmentexternal link iconwebsite. Please check the FAQs on a regular basis to ensure you have the latest information. The CCS Helpdesk is available to assist with information for education and care services to help them manage the impacts on their business. Please email the CCS Helpdesk on ccshelpdesk@dese.gov.au, send in your query via an online form or call 1300 667 276 between 9.00 am - 5.00 pm (AEDST), Monday to Friday.

Providers may also be eligible for other forms of business support offered by the Commonwealth Government. Some of these provisions are specifically designed to help businesses and not for-profit organisations to support their staff through the COVID 19 health crisis. More information about these provisions and additional information about support for businesses can be found at www.treasury.gov.au External Linkand www.business.gov.auExternal Link.

The ACT Government has launched the Economic Survival Package External Linkto support businesses in response to COVID-19 and has announced that commercial landlords will need to play their part, that cost-sharing or the deferrals of losses will be shared between Government, landlords, tenants and financial institutions. A business liaison phone line has been established to provide advice and information to support business operations during COVID-19. Please call (02) 6205 0900 for further details.

The ACT Government has waived education and care services’ Regulatory fees for the 2020 calendar year. Any fees that have already been paid during 2020 will be refunded.

It is important that our community facilities can continue to provide important services to local Canberra communities following the COVID-19 pandemic. On 4 April 2020 ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr posted on his Facebook External Linkpage that the ACT Government is providing six-months rent relief for community groups and impacted commercial tenants.

On 28 March 2020, ACT Minister for Early Childhood and Education Yvette Berry posted on her Facebook External Linkpage that the ACT Government has waived rent for out of school hours and vacation care providers that use government school buildings, for an initial three months.

ACT Skills Capital have released the Skilled Capital Qualification and Skill Set List to enable target funding for training that is designed to support workforce demand and supply issues as a result of COVID-19 and lead to improved employment outcomes for Canberrans.

The following education and care qualifications have been included:

  • Certificate IV in School Age Education and Care;
  • Diploma of School Age Education and Care;
  • Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care; and
  • Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care.

To find out more information about Skilled Capital and the ACT Government funded training initiatives on offer visit the Skills CanberraExternal Link Icon website.

Resources

What mental health and wellbeing resources are available to support education and care communities?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic education and care communities should invest in additional resources and tools to recognise and improve mental health and wellbeing in their community. Be Your Early LearningExternal link icon, Emerging MindsExternal link icon, Beyond BlueExternal Link Icon and ACT HealthExternal Link Icon have free materials to support providers, service leaders, educators and families in response to the impact of COVID-19.

Where can I find more information to support conversations about COVID-19 with children?  

A variety of resources can be used to support children’s understanding of COVID-19. The Australian Government Department of Health’s Help Stop the Spread and Social Distancing , ABC Kids Playschool’s Hello Friends (COVID-19 Special) and Little J and Big Cuz: Everybody Wash’em Now videos can assist. The Emerging Minds Talking to children about the COVID-19 Pandemic and Talking to children about traumatic events or worried about the future resources can also assist educators to navigate conversations with children about COVID-19.

More information

Where can I find more information about COVID-19?

The evolving circumstances of COVID-19 in our community reinforces that all individuals should use credible and consistent sources of information to make decisions. You should keep up to date with current information from: