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 (NQF). Education and care services who are experiencing operational difficulties should contact CECA on (02) 6207 1114 or email email@example.com for support.
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 NQF education and care services are required to have existing policies and procedures 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 to include a response to COVID-19.
Increased hygiene practice
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 principlesis available to assist with the need to increase cleaning and disinfecting processes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Work Safe Australia has a free business resource kit which includes checklists, communications scripts, infographics and factsheets to help businesses. Work Safe Australia has information to help minimising the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for education and care service employees .
Education and care services may choose to utilise the Infection control during the COVID - 19 pandemic model policy (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 about 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 1 person per 4 square metres is not appropriate or practical in education and care services, nor is maintaining 1.5m between children. This advice applies to children interacting with other children, and also to adults providing care or interacting with children in this environment.
The Australian Government Department of Health website includes 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 websiteto 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 module 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
Expanded testing of 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.
What should education and care providers and services do if they suspect a case of COVID-19?
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 service as required.
General information about COVID-19 can be accessed from the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. This line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Where can providers, services, educators, children and families find information about social distancing?
Education and care services should implement social distancing where practicable. This may include the use of intentional teaching strategies to help children understand social distancing, adapting routines to reduce the number of children in communal outdoor areas, increasing space between children at mealtimes and reducing group experiences in close proximity.
Additional social distancing strategies specific for education and care services can be found here.
- Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing and hygiene measures for preschools (95kb)
- Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing and hygiene measures for early childhood services (91kb)
- Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing and hygiene measures for school age care services (91kb)
Adults working in education and care services must so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure all adults have 4 square metres of space each and maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres between each adult in all areas of the facility. More information and guidance can be found on the Safe Work Australia website.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
How should education and care services respond to the completing 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.
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.
The Commonwealth Government’s latest information on the Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package in response to COVID-19, can be found on Department of Education, Skills and Employment website and the COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for education and care providers and services. 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 email@example.com, 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. This includes JobKeeper payments (wage subsidies), boosting cashflows for employers, and temporary relief for financially distressed businesses. More information about these provisions and additional information about support for businesses can be found at www.treasury.gov.au and www.business.gov.au.
The ACT Government has launched the Economic Survival Package to 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.
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 page 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 page 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 Canberra website.
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 Learning, Emerging Minds, Beyond Blue and ACT Health have free materials to support providers, service leaders, educators and families in response to the impact of COVID-19.
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 website.
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 under Section 162 of the Education and Care Services National Law (Act) Act 2011to 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 117A .The minimum requirements for a responsible person or person in day-to-day charge are outlined in regulation 117B . The staff record should hold further information about the responsible person as outlined in regulation
Can education and care services recommence excursions?
COVID-19 restrictions in the ACT have recently eased and now allow for outdoor gatherings of a maximum of 10 people (including children) and increased access to publics spaces such as playgrounds and parks. The latest information about the use of public spaces and outdoor gatherings is available on the ACT Government COVID-19 website. This means that excursions within the community can recommence in line with current advice on use of public space and continuation of hygiene recommendations.
Providers, service leaders and educators should consider the context of their service and excursion requirements set out in the National Quality Framework. CECA’s Interim Excursion (72kb) advice should be used to made decisions about excursions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please be aware that this document will be updated in line with current advice.
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 preparing hygiene kits that include bottles of water, a bucket, soap and paper towels for hand washing and antibacterial wipes for equipment and bin bags for rubbish disposal.
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 ACECQA website.
What if a family day care educator’s school age child needs to stay home from school and the required ratios cannot be maintained?
Family day care educators will be classed as essential workers and therefore should be able to have their own children remain in school. 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 which 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 (NQAITS) to meet notification requirements in addition to contacting CECA on (02) 6207 1114 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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 264 and 265 for transitional provisions for qualification requirements for centre based services for children of preschool age or under and to regulation 261(2) for centre based services with children over preschool age.
How will CECA operate during the COVID-19 pandemic?
To support the education and care services CECA will be adapting its approach as the Regulatory Authority for education and care services in the ACT. The purpose of this change is to ‘reduce the regulatory burden’ during COVID-19 while ensuring that education and care services continue to provide safe, quality education and care for children. Normal regulatory functions will recommence as the risk of COVID-19 decreases.
Whilst the risk of COVID-19 remains high CECA has redirected its regulatory support into three key functions:
Regular Assessment and Rating and Audit programs have been temporarily suspended. Urgent risk audits will be continuing.
A support team of Authorised Officers has been 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 has been expanded to provide more frequent and detailed communications to education and care providers and services.
The CECA is preparing for the possibility of prolonged isolation. This planning includes the continuation of service for children of essential workers and children experiencing vulnerability.
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 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.
As the risk of COVID-19 reduces CECA will implement a graduated return to standard regulatory functions.
Where can I find more information?
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:
- ACT Health Directorate
- The Australian Government Department of Health
- ACT Education Directorate
- Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority
- The Australian Government Department of Education Skills and Employment
- The ACT Government
- The Australian Government
- Work Safe Australia
- For general information on COVID-19 call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. This line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- You can download the Australian Government Coronavirus (COVID-19) app and WhatsApp Channel.