Children to be grouped in 'pods' in new crèche plan

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Proposals for reopening crèches have left parents, childcare providers and employers with a series of unanswered questions, Fianna Fáil has claimed.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone outlined preliminary guidance in the Dáil as crèches prepare to reopen for “essential workers” from June 29.

Proposals include grouping children in ‘pods’ attached to one staff member, regular hand-washing, staggered opening hours, and special drop-off points.

However Fianna Fáil’s children’s spokesperson Anne Rabbitte has asked who will be classified as an essential worker and if crèche care for babies will remain viable. She branded a drop-off point idea as “ridiculous”.

The provision of childcare during the pandemic has been a headache for the Government which has come under fire over a failed scheme to provide childcare for health workers.

Ms Zappone set out a series of proposals to reopen crèches which were drawn up in consultation with public health authorities and the childcare sector.

She warned it’s “not zero risk”, that coronavirus transmission is expected but risks will be “minimised”.

She said reopening the childcare sector is “critical” to the well-being of children and parents and vital to restarting the economy. She said she doesn’t underestimate the anxiety for parents and childcare professionals.

Social distancing for the children was ruled out as attempts to introduce it would be “traumatic”, but staff would have to stay apart.

She wasn’t able to answer Ms Rabbitte’s question on who will qualify as an essential worker. The Departments of the Children and the Taoiseach were last night said to be working on guidance on who will qualify.

Ms Zappone said: “This is a work in progress and we will be publishing detailed guidance as soon as possible.”

Last night, Ms Rabbitte claimed proposals for demarcated outdoor waiting areas where staff can collect the child from parents are “ridiculous”.

Ms Rabbitte asked how it would work if staff are attached to individual pods of children and said it could see staff having to bring children who had already arrived outside to collect others like a trail of “waddling ducks”.

She also argued it “flies in the face” of open-door policies of crèches and parents would lose the opportunity to go inside to see for themselves how the centre is run.

A Department of Children spokesperson said the group advising on the reopening of crèches “is considering how to best address child and parents’ needs” and “protecting the public health of all concerned must be one of a number of priorities.”

They insisted children will not have to leave the crèche in order for other children to enter.

They said the advice of public health experts and successful practice in other countries along with consultation with childcare providers will be taken into account to ensure a “workable” approach for the drop-off zones.

Ms Rabbitte also raised concern that the reduced capacity expected in crèches could mean baby rooms – already the least viable part of the business due to the need for more staff per child – “will be a thing of the past post-Covid”.

It is planned that crèches will reopen for all working parents in July on a phased basis, perhaps one day per week, and slowly increasing after that. However Ms Rabbitte argued that one day per week is “not a sustainable model for providers, parents or workers”.

Irish Independent

Source: Irish News