COVID-19 guidelines for ECEC services

Guidelines to help early childhood education and care (ECEC) services prepare for, prevent and manage an outbreak of COVID-19.

For information on funding and support available for ECEC services during COVID-19 visit our funding page.

Overview

Unlike with colds and flu, small children don't seem to be as severely affected by COVID-19. They also don't appear to contribute significantly to disease spread. Transmission of COVID-19 has mainly been from adult to adult.

ECEC services should feel confident that increasing hygiene practices and social distancing at their service will help prevent the spread.

The information and actions below help ECEC services prepare for, prevent and manage a potential outbreak of COVID-19. They apply to all service types unless otherwise specified.

Policies and procedures

Risk management planning

  • Identify children with compromised immunity or complex health care needs. Work with families to update any medical management, risk-minimisation and communications plans as required (regulations 90 and 168).
  • Consider having regular time for handwashing for all children and staff within your learning programs and activities.
  • Identify a suitable area, additional and separate to the regular sick bay, for children who may be showing symptoms of COVID-19 to await pick up by their parent/carer.
  • Consider canvassing casual educators and staff for availability in the event of critical educator and staff absences.
  • Visit SafeWork NSW for information on managing the risk of COVID-19 to those at your service.
  • Consider developing a COVID-19 Safety Plan.

More information:

Communicating with families

Hygiene measures

  • Clean your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue - consider placing tissues in every room at your service for staff and children to use.
  • Place used tissues straight into a bin.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Don’t share food or drink.
  • The use of mobile phones by staff should be discouraged unless necessary, and staff should be encouraged to clean their phones regularly.
  • Display health and hygiene promotional materials from the NSW Government including translated resources in prominent places at your service including the kitchen, learning spaces, hand wash and toilet areas.
  • Use these resources from The Wiggles to teach children about cough etiquette and handwashing.

Social distancing

  • Encourage staff to keep their distance from others if possible.
  • Exclude staff, children and visitors with symptoms of COVID-19 from your service – read more on managing a sick staff member or child.
  • Consider the need for non-essential activities that involve close personal contact – for example excursions and incursions.
  • Implement controls to reduce direct contact with others, such as:
    • barriers to create space at sign-in areas, seated areas etc.
    • modify shifts and rosters, or pick-up and drop-off times to reduce peak periods.
    • have staff collect children from outside the service.
    • support remote learning for families keeping their children at home for long periods.

Evaluate what is most appropriate for your service and unique circumstances.

While it’s not always possible in an ECEC setting to maintain physical distancing, some things that you can do to minimise close contact are:

Learning and office spaces

  • Consider the setup of the room and the placement of the activities and limit the number of whole group activities. Children should be spaced out as much as possible. For table activities, set up activities only at each end of the table.
  • Mixing of staff and children between rooms should be avoided where possible. It is acknowledged that staff may need to move between rooms to support breaks and, in these situations, staff should be reminded of the importance of hand hygiene.
  • Set up more individual activities throughout the room. Rather than having all of your books and blocks on one shelf, set them up in separate areas throughout the room if possible.
  • Rather than having group times where everyone is sitting on the mat, consider using informal opportunities to engage with the children/read books/do storytelling with one or two children at a time throughout the day.
  • For younger children, particularly consider the rotation of toys more often and increase the frequency of cleaning toys. Sharing of toys that have been placed in mouths should be monitored and avoided.
  • Look at the spacing of cots and highchairs, keeping them well apart.
  • Mixing of staff and children between rooms should be avoided where possible. It is acknowledged that staff may need to move between rooms to support breaks and, in these situations, staff should be reminded of the importance of hand hygiene.
  • Where possible, staff should use separate offices, and separate themselves within existing office space as much as possible.

Mealtimes

  • Sharing of food should be actively monitored and discouraged.
  • Staff should serve children and avoid allowing children to self-serve from a shared plate.
  • Look at your setup when children are eating. Consider having less children at each table and use more tables to allow more space between children.
  • If you have limited tables and normally have all children eating at the same time, consider staggered timings of snacks and lunch over a longer period of time.

Outdoor play

  • Wherever possible (e.g. weather dependent) and where you have enough staffing for adequate supervision, consider operating an indoor/outdoor program for the full day/session. This naturally provides for more space for the children and the setup of more activities for children to engage in.
  • If you are not able to run an indoor/outdoor program, consider spending more time outdoors, consider the placement of activities and the amount of activities in the outdoor space. A greater range of activities will encourage children to spread out more broadly.

Routine care

  • Standard precautions are advised when coming into contact with someone for the purpose of providing routine care and/or assistance (for example, the use of gloves for nappy changing, toileting, feeding). Also see National Health and Medical Research Council guidance Staying healthy: Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services.
  • Staff must always wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use a hand sanitiser before and after performing routine care.

First aid

  • Standard precautions should be adopted when providing first aid, e.g. gloves and apron to use when dealing with blood or body fluids/substances.
  • Always wash hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitiser before and after providing first aid.
  • Additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (for example, face masks) is not required to provide standard first aid on children or staff who appear to be well. Hand hygiene, good respiratory etiquette (coughing into your elbow or into a tissue and immediately disposing of the tissue) and environmental cleaning are more important for reducing risk.

Incursions

We advise you to limit visitors to your service to only those reasonably necessary, for example:

  • our authorised officers
  • NDIS providers
  • allied health professionals.

Incursions and activities run by external providers visiting your service, such as dance or music programs, can occur, but they are best continued using technology rather than in person.

For all visitors, implement social distancing and follow normal hand hygiene and cough etiquette protocols.

Authorised officers visiting services

We need to continue service visits to check regulatory compliance and protect children's safety and wellbeing.

All visits will be made by appointment unless:

  • we become aware of an urgent or high-risk situation
  • a serious incident occurs within a service.

All authorised officers follow best practice hygiene and current health advice. Read more in our guidelines below.

The following guidelines list some of the extra precautions that the department’s authorised officers are taking when planning a visit to your service:

  • Officers are required to monitor the latest health advice and changes to restrictions as they emerge, and in consultation with their manager ensure that their work plans continue to reflect the current situation.
  • Officers who have attended identified hotspots, are required to self-isolate for 14 days and not conduct service visits.
  • Officer’s visits are currently scheduled based on their home location and they will not be flying or travelling long distances to conduct visits.
  • All officers are currently working from home when not completing service visits, and not attending offices to further minimise risk.
  • Officers are provided with PPE such as hand sanitiser to use before, during and after service visits. Officers have also been provided with face masks if your service requires them to use one.
  • All visits should be made by appointment, except in urgent or high risk situations. Officers will plan how the visit will be conducted with the Approved Provider/Nominated Supervisor in line with the service’s COVID-19 protocols.
  • The Officer will follow any additional precautions that your service has in place (for example, hand washing, temperature checks, or travel declarations).
  • If you have a COVID-19 declaration which all visitors to your service must read and sign, the Officer will sign this. Our Officers need to comply with any requirements services have established to minimise risk.
  • Where possible, officers are required to spread out the frequency of visits to minimise risk of transmission between services.
  • Where possible, visits will be arranged for the least busy times for your service and avoid drop-off and pick-up times. For example, scheduling visits when children will be outside, such as between 10-11am or 2-4pm. Most OSHC visits can be scheduled outside operational times.
  • If an officer feels unwell for any reason they will not be conducting visits and your service will be called and advised.
  • Where possible, the officer will only speak to one person, maintaining social distance, and keeping at least 1.5m from others. If possible, discussions should be undertaken in the outdoor area or another well-ventilated space (avoiding small office spaces).

In addition to the above guidelines, for assessment and rating visits:

  • Officers may request temporary access to any online platforms that your service uses for communicating with parents, so this can be assessed prior to the visit.
  • Officers may make an appointment with the Educational Leader 2-3 days prior to the visit to discuss the program via phone or video call.
  • The focus of the visit will be to observe practice and routines, and where possible will avoid heavy traffic times such as drop-off and pick-up times.
  • Shorter visits over 2 days are preferred (this will also depend on service size).
  • During the visit, time will be divided between observations and discussions.
  • Closing discussions will be kept short, with a follow up video meeting or phone conference if convenient.

If you have any further questions, please contact the Department’s Information and Enquiries team on 1800 619 113 or at ececd@det.nsw.edu.au.

Coordinator visits to family day care educators

Family day care coordinators can continue to monitor and support educators. This may include using technology or other means. You should continue to record details of the monitoring and support provided to educators, for example, dates and times of phone calls.

Practical students and pre-service teacher placements

There are currently no restrictions on student placements in NSW early childhood education and care services. However, services may want to consider placements in line with:

  • restrictions of movement or operations under current health orders
  • the level of community transmission of COVID-19 in the local area
  • the student's ability to comply with your COVID-safe policies and procedures
  • the ability to complete the placement and ensure a continuity of learning for both the student and children.

Singing and chanting in services

In an education and care service, group singing or chanting may take place outdoors or in large, well-ventilated areas.

Preschool graduations

Services can host preschool graduations within the service, at an external venue or online.

Services must complete a thorough risk assessment first, with consideration given to:

  • wellbeing of staff and children
  • physical distancing
  • record keeping
  • cleaning and hygiene.

Services are encouraged to complete a COVID-19 Safety Plan as part of their risk assessment.

Preschool orientation programs

Orientation programs may be run following a thorough risk assessment with consideration given to:

  • wellbeing of staff and children
  • physical distancing
  • record keeping
  • cleaning and hygiene.

Services are encouraged to complete a COVID-19 Safety Plan as part of their risk assessment. Please note this does not have to be submitted by early childhood education and care services.

Alternative ways of conducting orientations, for example via Zoom meetings, should be considered where the risks of in-person orientations outweigh the benefits.

Excursions

Excursions may go ahead provided they are permitted by current health orders and standard risk management processes are in place.

If you aren’t in an area with lots of cases, and you want to visit your local area you could consider that low risk provided you have parental consent and standard risk management.

However if it’s a bigger excursion involving public transport with lots of people everywhere the benefits of going on the excursion should be carefully weighed against the risks.

Visits to aged care are not advised.

Transition to school programs/school orientation

Schools have been advised that Kindergarten orientation and transition to school can resume for students with strict guidelines. Please refer to the guidelines for schools.

Environmental cleaning

Use environmental cleaning to minimise the number of germs that survive on surfaces at your service.

Some germs can survive in the environment, usually on surfaces such as bench tops, door handles and toys. The length of time a germ can survive on a surface depends on the germ itself, the type of surface it has contaminated, and how often the surface is cleaned. Reducing the number of germs in the environment can break the chain of infection.

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with a common household disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

More information

Face masks

Staff in education and care services are not required to wear masks under any legislation or public health order. Read the NSW Government's guidelines on wearing masks.

If staff feel more comfortable wearing a mask there is nothing in the National Law and Regulations to prevent them doing so.

You should also follow normal disease prevention measures including hand sanitising, appropriate social distancing between adults and excluding anyone with symptoms or who has been in contact with a confirmed case.

Temperature checks

There is no requirement to check temperatures of children or staff. You can check temperatures if you wish but note they aren’t always effective at picking up people with COVID-19. This is because a significant proportion of people with COVID-19 don’t have a fever. Temperature checks can also cause queues which prevent people from maintaining physical distancing.

You can usually use your own judgement to assess the health of a child – you typically know the children at your service well enough to recognise when they aren’t feeling well.

For more information on using thermometers view our interview with Dr Jan Fizzell (from 11m 06s).

Flu vaccinations

  • While there is no vaccination for COVID-19, in order to reduce the impact on the public health system, the AHPPC has recommended that staff at early childhood education and care services should be vaccinated for influenza. However it is not a requirement under the National Law and Regulations.
  • If this becomes a requirement under a Public Health Order in NSW we will notify you.
  • In the interests of the health and wellbeing of all staff and children at your service we encourage you to get the influenza vaccine if there are no contraindications for you to do so.
  • Children under five years old are entitled to a free influenza vaccine. Some employers also subsidise vaccines for staff.
  • For information about the influenza vaccination, including people who are eligible to receive the vaccination for free visit the NSW Health website.

Managing a sick staff member or child

If a staff member or child is unwell, follow your normal policies and procedures for managing infectious diseases.

Sick staff

Sick children

  • Contact the child's family to collect them as soon as possible.
  • If possible, and your supervision and ratio requirements allow, keep the child in isolation until they are collected.
  • If the child displays symptoms of COVID-19 encourage families to get their child tested.

Keeping families informed

Due to the high volume of testing it's impractical to inform families every time a staff member of child at your service gets tested. Therefore, during COVID-19 communicate with families that:

  • children and staff at your service should get tested if they show symptoms
  • you’ll inform families if there is a result of concern.

Returning to your service

Before they can return to a service, staff and children at department preschools must provide evidence of a negative COVID test if they have been absent or excluded due to showing symptoms of COVID-19.

This is not mandatory for ECEC services run by other organisations.

NSW Health recommends services:

  • request evidence of a negative COVID-19 test before staff and children can return
  • adopt this in the content of their infectious disease policies.

However this an operational decision for individual services and is not mandatory practice.

Exposure to a confirmed case

Read the latest COVID-19 case locations in NSW.

If a child or staff member has been at an identified location at the identified time they need to either:

  • self-isolate and get tested immediately or

  • monitor for symptoms.

If you're unsure, call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055 and ask them for advice.

Self-isolation

For more information on self-isolation:

Self-isolation and family day care

NSW Health advises if a family day care educator has a family member who is self-isolating in their residence, care should not be provided from that residence during that period.

Managing a confirmed case of COVID-19

If you learn someone at your service has tested positive to COVID-19, and you haven't heard from NSW Health, call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055 and ask them for advice.

You may not need to close your service – doing so can cause unnecessary disruption both for you and your families.

Your local public health unit will help you assess the situation and take you through the appropriate steps.

More information

Closing your service

NSW Health is the agency responsible for giving directions in relation to closures. If they direct you to close your service you should:

You must notify us within 24 hours of closure however, we ask that you notify us as soon as possible.

If you already submitted a notification of a serious incident at your service, then received further information relating to the incident which impacts your service's ability to operate, please edit the I01 notification and include additional information.

Accessing NQA ITS

If you're unable to access NQA ITS to submit the notification, contact us by:

This is sufficient notification until you can lodge the form through NQA ITS.

Alternative childcare

Parents and carers can visit StartingBlocks.gov.au for information about services’ vacancies and hours of operation.

If you're considering closing due to low enrolments or lack of supplies, please contact us prior to making a decision by:

Suspension

Services aren't required to apply for a voluntary suspension during COVID-19.

Deep cleaning

If you have a confirmed case of COVID-19 at your service you need to clean thoroughly and disinfect all areas which may have been contaminated. This is often referred to as a ‘deep clean’. NSW Health will advise you on how to do this, as well as any other steps you need to take, and when you can reopen.

Please note:

  • You can use your usual cleaning staff to do a deep clean.
  • NSW Health doesn’t require you to use specialised cleaning companies – but you can if you want to.
  • NSW Health doesn’t endorse or recommend any particular cleaning companies.
  • There is no certification process endorsed by the NSW Government for cleaning companies undertaking cleaning and disinfection services after a COVID-19 outbreak.
  • You aren’t required to provide a certificate of cleaning completion in order to reopen.

The following resources are available for ECE services to follow:

Reopening your service

NSW Health will advise you when your service is able to reopen.

Please advise us when you reopen your service by:

  • logging into NQA ITS and add an additional information to your original notification of closure or
  • emailing ececd@det.nsw.edu.au to say your service has reopened and when.

We'll then update your service record accordingly.

Educator-to-child ratios

During COVID-19 it's hard for services to know each day:

  • how many children will be attending
  • which staff members will be present.

But the health, safety and wellbeing of children in education and care remains the priority so:

  • adequate supervision requirements including ratios continue to apply
  • services should make every attempt to meet ratio requirements each day.

Qualification requirements

The National Quality Framework includes requirements for educators to:

  • hold a current approved first aid qualification
  • have undertaken current anaphylaxis management and emergency ashtma management training.

This is to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of children attending education and care services.

Centre-based services must ensure one educator or nominated supervisor who holds these qualifications is available at all times. The same person may hold one or more of these qualifications.

Each family day care educator and educator assistant must hold these qualifications.

New first aid qualification

Educators who need a new first aid qualification should:

  • discuss the options with training providers
  • complete the theoretical aspects and receive confirmation of progress from the training provider if the practical parts of a course can't be completed at this time
  • complete practical parts of a course as soon as it is possible and safe to do so.
Refresher training

Educators who hold a first aid qualification but require a refresher should explore available options to complete this training. We realise it may only be possible to complete the theoretical parts of a course at this time.

Pandemic Leave

The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is for people living in New South Wales who can't earn an income because they must self-isolate, quarantine or care for someone who has COVID-19.

Check the eligibility requirements at Services Australia.

Waivers

We can grant waivers for:

  • staff qualifications – if services and educators have explored options available to complete the training
  • ratios – in exceptional circumstances.

Waivers related to COVID-19 are:

  • considered on a case-by-case basis
  • only open to services in clear need – i.e. they do not have the staff capacity to meet ratios
  • fast-tracked – as long as there's no increased risk to staff or children's safety.

We'll consider the period of time a waiver is granted so services don't have to reapply each day they don't meet the requirements.

If the service's circumstances remain the same after the waiver expires, we may extend the waiver period on review.

Apply for a waiver

To apply for a waiver:

  • submit an application in NQA ITS
  • pay the $111 fee – we'll refund this fee as long as your application is related to COVID-19.

For advice on lodging a waiver application and meeting requirements due to COVID-19 contact us by:

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