Please see letter below sent from the Minister of Health to the Childcare Sector:
Dear Childcare Sector,
The purpose of this letter is to provide an update on the Department’s COVID-19 response plans, as they relate to the childcare sector.
I know that you have faced increasing levels of uncertainty in recent weeks, and I want to thank you for your patience and engagement with my officials to help us to develop appropriate solutions to these new challenges facing us.
While the Department is seeking powers to issue temporary closure directions in respect of registered childcare providers in the COVID-19 Bill, I have taken a decision not to close childcare facilities or childminding services in Northern Ireland. This enables us to ensure childcare provision for key workers, including front-line health and social care workers at a time when they will need it the most.
My officials are in the process of writing guidance for parents to make it clear what is meant by key worker, for example. The definition as it relates to childcare is likely to be more limited than that for schools purely on the basis of space to care for children safely.
Officials are also developing guidance for childminders and day care providers, which among other things, will advise on numbers of children, who you can accommodate and what we expect of you in terms of adherence to Minimum Standards. To help inform this guidance, I would be grateful if you could provide a swift response to the survey circulated by the Family Support NI team earlier today.
We will provide you with as much flexibility as possible within the boundaries of safe care. I have already made a decision to suspend inspection activity.
Everything all of us do in the period ahead will, of course, be guided by public health advice on preventing the spread of COVID-19. While you await this further guidance from my Department, I would ask you to ensure that at a minimum, you are operating in compliance with the latest Public Health Agency guidance from Monday 23 March, including Public Health England guidance on social distancing available at:
I acknowledge that this will have financial consequences for you and we will take full account of that in decision-making. At this stage, I would encourage you to avail of the support which my Executive colleagues have been putting in place, such as the rates relief arrangements announced by the Finance Minister, and the continuity of financial support to individuals confirmed by the Minister for Communities.
These are unprecedented times, and they call for unique responses. We have started to develop a bespoke approved home child carer scheme to bolster provision in settings. I understand this has your support.
I thank you for the vital service that you continue to provide for families and children across Northern Ireland.
Please continue to work with us as we seek to navigate our way through the weeks and months ahead.
Robin Swann MLA
Minister for Health
We have been advised by the Health & Social Care Board that all registered childcare providers (excluding childminders) in Northern Ireland have been sent an email to complete a survey as soon as possible and by Monday 23 March at 10:00pm. Please email email@example.com if you have not received the email.