We know that everyone is very concerned about the spread of Coronavirus / COVID-19. The situation is changing on a daily basis, but we have tried to summarise the latest guidance and tips for childcare settings - and for small businesses in general. We take a look at steps you can take for infection control within your setting, managing staff absence, dealing with the financial implications, and we also provide links to the essential government information resources.
Infection control in your setting
It is vital to keep on top of infection control in your setting:
- Make sure that the children wash their hands as soon as they arrive, before they have anything to eat, after they blow their nose and of course after they've used the toilet.
- Demonstrate, encourage and practice good hand-washing techniques with the children. Our Glitter Germs activity is useful for this.
- All tissues should be binned immediately after use and hands washed. Put out extra bins with a prominent sign above each one to remind the children to wash their hands as soon as they have disposed of the tissue.
- Wipe down high-traffic surfaces with anti-viral wipes or sprays before and after each session, and when necessary during the session as well. High-traffic surfaces include door handles, push plates on doors, light switches, tables, etc. Also controllers for video games, laptop keyboards, and other popular hand-held toys and devices. However there is no need to attempt a deep clean of all of your play resources unless you have been notified that someone within your setting has tested positive for the virus.
- If children have returned from a high risk area, or been in contact with someone who has, ask them to stay away from the club for 14 days or until they have been tested and found negative for the virus.
- Parents who have returned from a high risk area should be asked to send someone else to drop off or collect their children for 14 days.
- New advice as of 16 March is that if anyone has a recent onset of a high temperature (ie over 100° Fahrenheit / 37.8° Celsius) or a new continuous cough, they should self-isolate for 14 days, even if they haven't been in a high risk area of had contact with anyone who has.
- If a child becomes ill with symptoms suggestive of Covid-19 whilst at your club, you should isolate the child from other children by at least 2m whilst waiting for their parents to collect them. There is no need to implement further measures at your club unless or until the child tests positive for the virus. This is because most suspected cases turn out to be negative.
- If a child or staff member at your club does test positive, you will be contacted by the local Health Protection Team of Public Health England (PHE) who will advise on cleaning your premises and any other necessary steps.
- Keep an eye on any changes to the government guidance (see the links at the end of this article) and update your Coronavirus / Pandemic flu policy as appropriate.
Work on building up a bank of relief staff who can step in if necessary if any of your regular staff have to take time off, either because they are ill themselves or because they have to self-isolate. Call in some favours! Make sure that your relief staff have appropriate DBS checks - or, at a push - ensure that they are never left unsupervised with the children. There has been some talk that staffing ratios could be relaxed for school classes and childcare settings if the situation worsens, but this proposal has not yet been made official.
What if you (or your manager) were either taken ill, or were forced to go into quarantine? Who would know how to keep the setting going in your absence? Make sure that your deputy is fully briefed and up to speed with all of your daily tasks so that they can easily step up if required. If you don't already have a written operational plan or handover document, now would be a good time to create one. You might find our Operating Manual pack helpful in this.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has said that staff who need to self-quarantine will be eligible for sick pay, even if it turns out that they are not actually infected. The government has also said that statutory sick pay (SSP) will be payable from the first day of illness (rather than from the third day as currently) during the Coronoavirus crisis. This has yet to be confirmed by emergency legislation, but is expected to be made official shortly.
Most out of school clubs are only able to offer their staff SSP, but If your staff do have contractual sick pay then it is up to the employer to decide how to treat time off due to self-quarantine. However ACAS has said that it would be 'good practice' to offer sick pay to cover such absences. The aim after all is to ensure that potentially infected staff do not come into work and spread the virus further.
Financial implications of forced closure
The topic preying on most people's minds is how they would manage financially if their club was forced to close temporarily. This might be just for a couple of days to enable the premises to be deep cleaned, or due to a shortage of staff if they all fell ill at the same time, or if the government decides to implement compulsory closures of all schools and childcare settings. This latter course of action would probably result in settings in affected areas being shut down for two weeks - however this is a drastic step that the government will only use if the situation seriously deteriorates.
The first thing to check is whether you are covered for loss of earnings or interruption of business through your insurance cover. Unfortunately many insurance policies exclude novel diseases such as Covid-19, even though it has now been made a notifiable disease by the Department of Health. The major childcare insurers Morton Michel and Pound Gates have both stated that their policies won't cover losses due to the Coronavirus crisis. If your insurance is through a different insurer it would be worth contacting them now to see if you will be covered.
If you are not covered for loss of earnings through your insurance cover, you need to take stock of the financial implications of forced closure:
- Do you have a contract with parents that covers emergency closures, eg snow days, school strikes, etc? If so, you should follow the policies set out in there with regards to whether parents have to pay. Although note that the exteme situation of an extended forced government shutdown would probably not have been anticipated in your terms and conditions, so it would not be unreasonable for you to issue revised terms for this situation.
- If you don't already have terms and conditions that cover emergency closure in your parent contract, you should look at drawing up an Emergency Shutdown policy as soon as possible. It is up to you to decide on the conditions of the Emergency Shutdown policy but it is important that it is seen as fair by both the club and parents.
- In general, if your setting is open but a child is unable to attend (because they are ill or in quarantine) then the parents still need to pay, as you are still available to provide the service.
- If your setting is forced to close temporarily at short notice, due to a shortfall on your part (eg shortage of staff) then you aren't available to provide the service, so it would be fair to offer parents a credit against the days that you weren't open (assuming that they've paid in advance).
- If your setting is forced to close at short notice due to circumstances outside of your control, then the situation is less clear cut. For a one-off closure such as a snow day, most clubs do charge as they already have their staff lined up to work that day, have bought food, resources, etc. An emergency deep clean would fall into a similar category. But for an extended shutdown of two weeks for example, you probably won't have bought in food or materials, but you will presumably still have rent to pay and at least some staff costs to pay, so are still incurring costs even though they are reduced. You might decide that in this circumstance you will offer parents who have paid in advance a partial credit (say 50%) against the days you are forced to close. Hopefully parents would see this as fair. Alternatively, after considering your actual outgoings you might decide that you still have to charge parents in full for the days that you are closed.
- Whatever your decision about whether, and how much, parents need to pay when your setting is closed, it is important that you communicate this information to them beforehand. This is so that they know what to expect and understand your reasoning. The bottom line is that parents should want your setting to stay in business so that you can provide them with childcare in the future - it is not in their interests for your club to go under.
We have created a template Emergency Shutdown policy to help you record and communicate your decisions regarding shutdowns to parents.
Find out more about the Emergency Shutdown policy
You should regularly check the latest government information. The key resources can be found here:
COVID-19: Guidance for educational settings (DfE and PHE))
COVID-19:Advice for employers and businesses (PHE and DBEIS)
DfE Coronavirus helpline (for settings from early years up to university): 0800 046 8687 (Monday to Friday 8.00am to 6.00pm)
Covid-19: Support for businesses (DBEIS)
Covid-19: Support for employees (DBEIS)
Support for those affected by Covid-19 (HM Treasury)
There's also a really useful series of articles by the Federation of Small Businesses on how to deal with the business and HR implications of Coronavirus:
Covid-19: Advice and guidance for small businesses and the self-employed