Transcript of March 18 2020 livestream

Transcript

Hello. My name's Martin Graham and I'm the Executive Director of Early Childhood Education at the New South Wales Department of Education.

I'd like to start today's broadcast by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land the Darug people Aboriginal elders past present and emerging and any Aboriginal people here today. I'd also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands that you're meeting on today and acknowledge them.

First of all, look, thank you for attending at short notice, at this time of year we would normally be seeing you in person at our roadshows but today things are a little bit different and we are going to try something different here today. It's a new format for us so hopefully it's helpful for you.

First of all, you will be able to send questions in to us and you should have on your screen instructions for how to do that through slido and the number you need to send questions through is 224. So, hopefully they'll be straightforward and you'll be able to see and send us some questions. So hashtag X224, hashtag X224. We won't be able to get to all your questions today but we'll answer as many as we can. Most importantly at the end of the session, we'll have additional information available on our website that will be regularly updated.

So first of all, what do we know about Covid-19 and the situation we're in? Well, as the Prime Minister said this morning, this is a one in 100-year event. So this is something that's unprecedented for all of us, for the department, as well as for you. Today, the Prime Minister announced that gatherings of more than 100 people indoor and 500 people outdoors would be banned and that Australians are advised not to travel overseas.

But in that message, the Prime Minister also announced that schools would remain open and that early childhood services would remain open. And he particularly called out the importance of this for health care, emergency care, and frontline workers that they would actually be able to continue doing what they need to do at this difficult time. I would like to say that the sector so far has responded in an outstanding manner. So, as the department and the interaction we have with you, the response has been nothing short of exemplary. Every time there's been an issue, services have done the right thing. They've spoken to health, there's all different things that have happened but every single time you've put children first, you’ve put families first, you've sorted things out and then you quite appropriately informed us and kept us in touch with what's happening.

So, we would like to start off by saying, you know, that has been exemplary. We also know, however, that you are looking for information. Information at this time is critical. Often, you don't get information fast enough and there's lots of questions you have that you need answered. We know you're worried about the viability of the sector. We know that some families are withdrawing children and that you have issues with enrolments and we do understand that. We also know that some of you at times have had difficulty getting hold of vital supplies. When we look at the measures that have been announced about social distancing, we do know that in an early childhood setting some of the distances that you're generally looking at in advice just aren't practical and we're looking at ways to be able to provide better advice around how you can actually manage it in your setting.

So, what do we hope to do today? First of all, we’re here, the whole leadership team are here to try and answer your questions- as many as possible- but probably importantly, we’re here to also gather questions, listen to what you have to say so that we can actually go and see if we can provide you with further information.

It's also important to know that sometimes this information can change quickly and it's really important to check back in particularly with health or with our website to see what the latest advice is. As a department, we are not just operating as normal. Most important thing is that there is very strong coordination between the Prime Minister and the premiers at this time. Their advice is very much led by the Chief Medical Officers of both the State and the Commonwealth. And it is that advice that we follow as education. So, just so you know the questions that we will be answering, they are cleared by Health. So, everything is looked at through that public health angle. We also know the situation changes. This National Cabinet is meeting regularly and will meet again on Friday.

So, the situation is fluid. We are aware of the viability issues. We particularly know that much of the sector is reliant on Commonwealth funding and that we know our colleagues in the Commonwealth are very aware of your concerns. For State funded services, community preschools. We know that during the bushfires and floods and other incidences we've had to step in and ensure stability of funding. And so we're looking at those responses as well. We know for assessment rating and other regulatory services going out to visit things, we are reviewing our operations daily. And I think as you'll hear during the session, we'll be operating sensibly with you, to try and keep things going.

As far as we're concerned, child safety and supporting you and any changes you need at this time is certainly our priority. We know this is very challenging but we're also aware as the Prime Minister said this morning, this could last for some time. So, we need to look at responses we've got that are sustainable and be sure we actually have a strong sector coming through at the end of this. So, what we'll do today, I'll ask my colleagues to introduce themselves then we'll go to your questions and we'll try and answer as many of them as possible and we'll tell you a bit about, at the end, some of the other steps we've got coming up.

KRISTIE:
Hi. I'm Kristie Brown. I'm the Director of Programs and Strategic Projects in the department.

ABI:
Hi. My name is Abi Weldon-Chan. I'm the Director of Regulatory Strategy and Performance in the department.

GLENDA:
Hello. I'm Glenda Buckley. I'm the Director of the State-wide Operations Network. Essentially what that means is that I look after the authorised officers that come out to all of your services.

MARTIN:
So, we're going to go to questions now and look, the first question is about information and where you should get it from. And we do understand at this point, it's feedback that we've received, that there are a lot of different sources. So, the question is, "With so much information out at this time on Covid-19, where's the best place for early childhood services to access most current and relevant information? We're bombarded from all areas of inaccurate or non-relevant information but still need to read in case we miss something. We'll take this to Abi but I would like to say you know, if there's - if there are things that are critical regulatory requirements they will go to you in the all service email, and we will be putting up a text number at the end, you can subscribe to to make sure that you don't miss those messages. I think that's probably one of those important things from a regulatory point of view. I'm sorry. You've got your microphone. This is our first time of doing this.

ABI:
Thank you Martin. Yes look, I would like to reiterate what Martin said in that we know that there is a lot of information out there. And if you do have specific information that's related to your service and your service’s situation, please, we encourage you to contact your local public health unit and the telephone number for that is 1 300 066 055. There is also information that's kept up to date and current on both the Australian government websites- that's the Health website. There is also information being sent out to services through the Australian government’s newsletters, our own ECD update is being sent out regularly when situations change and we need to communicate with you. And there is also information available on our own website as well. And as Martin said, some of those links will be available and numbers for our enquiries line, later on in the presentation.

MARTIN:
Thank you. And if people are wondering why we don't always update the health advice on our website, the last thing we want to do is have two sources of information that could get out of sync. So, we'll absolutely be working with Health where possible and linking to their website so that you do have one source of information. I would say if people do find two different sources of information that are conflicting, please let us know so that we can actually get that corrected. The next question is about operations. So if a childcare centre is forced to close, will this time off come out of employees leave?

ABI:
This is a question that is really about the operations of each individual service and it's not one that the Department of Education can actually prescribe for you. So, this is something that you need to check yourself with your own requirements and if you have any questions, we would encourage you to talk to Fair Work and see what your obligations are.

MARTIN:
Thank you. So just a reminder, X224 on slido if you have questions that you would like to send in. We also have services asking about how we're going to be responding to A&R during this time. You know it's - we know that people are concerned about what's happening, so Glenda, can you give us a bit of a rundown on how we're going to be approaching that at the moment.

GLENDA:
Sure. So, as services would know, Assessment and Rating often is scheduled up to 12 weeks in advance. So many services who are due to have their assessment rating visits now were notified some time ago. So, services have done a lot of work in preparation for that. They've either sent in their QIPs and service context forms or they've sent in their self-assessment forms and officers have been working to schedule those visits. Now, we understand that this isn't our usual environment so where services are concerned about their upcoming assessment and rating visit. We would encourage you to contact us and we're absolutely going to be flexible about how we can postpone those visits if we need to do that for reasons related to Covid-19. So, yes I guess what I'm saying is that we're just going to take a really flexible approach understanding the context that we're in. Thanks.

MARTIN:
Thank you. The next question is about, and this is a question that we have quite commonly, if a school- talking about school closures- "If a school does close and the centres on the school grounds, does the service have to close as well?"

ABI:
So, I'll take this one again and look, best advice to you is to follow the directions of the Department of Health and to talk to the Department of Health about your unique circumstances. As there are very many different sites, some on-school sites whether they be government schools, non-government schools or services that aren't on school sites at all. It really is a site level decision and that is something that you need to talk to with the people who may operate your site and also with the Department of Health.

MARTIN:
Thank you. And I think it's fair to say that in terms of government schooling in particular, you know, there will be a coordinated approach and so hopefully communications on that will be particularly clear. And a kind of related question is with the school holidays coming up if schools close over the school holidays will vacation care be able to run, and I think that's a question that is under active consideration and it really most likely will come down to the health advice. So, if schools are closed for normal school holidays then you know vacation care would continue to run. It would only be in terms of either individual health response for school or public health response that we'd be looking at vacation care not running in that period. Is it?

GLENDA:
I guess I just want to add to that and say that we have had a couple of circumstances already where outside school hours care services have notified us that they are unable to operate in private schools because the schools have made the decision to close and have actually made the decision for the OOSH service as well. So, that's a possibility.

MARTIN:
Thank you. So, look all these issues are things that we are continuing to work through. And just so you know there is a coordinated response across government and when decisions are being made about schools, we certainly as part of the Department are helping to keep them aware about what the impact on early childhood is. A question that we alluded to at the beginning, and everybody has questions about, is what about business viability. What action will be taken to support services? I talked about you know this might run for a while. What we want this to look like on the other side and I think absolutely everybody wants the other side of this to look like a strong sector that's able to support families againon the other side. And I think that is absolutely a focus of government. I know it's certainly absolutely top of mind for the Commonwealth Government particularly given their role in a lot of early childhood services. Kristie, is there anything you want to say about state?

KRISTIE:
So, I guess I just add to that. Thank you Polly for the question. I think I'd just add to that that there's a lot going on at the moment in terms of considering the best funding responses for services as most of you will know there is a mixed model of funding for a lot of early childhood education services in New South Wales so a very large number of services receive their primary funding through the Commonwealth and a number of services, particularly community mobile preschools as Martin mentioned, receive funding primarily from the State Government.

So, I think what's really important at this point is that we keep those actions coordinated and we have a view towards what does the viability of the sector as a whole look like. We're obviously working through you know as a priority what the scenarios are in terms of support to those services that primarily rely on funding from the State Government which is not to say that there's not a bigger picture at play, of course there is, there's a number of scenarios at the moment about you know what the impacts could be and we're working through those so that we've got a strong understanding of the kinds of supports we might need to get into place.

You know, as Martin said, there's you know, we've got some history here about how we consider some of these things in terms of providing support to services when there's unexpected and significant events within the community. We do have and maintain a focus, obviously, in line with our policy drivers around pre-school participation and around affordability and so we'll continue to be focused on those things in terms of supporting services. And also obviously, their continued operations and viability.

So, I don't think at this point, well certainly not today, we can't give you a very comprehensive and detailed answer about if X then Y, but I suppose what we can do is provide reassurance to say that it is absolutely top of mind and it's top of mind for not just the State Government but the Commonwealth Government and how we work together on that will be critical. And I think we're very well aware of that. And I, you know, as we move through scenarios, and as events unfold, then you can absolutely expect to get clarification and detail around what that means in terms of funding.

MARTIN:
Thank you. We now have a question about how we might change the way we operate in Including what you do. Look, clearly here today we have moved from an in-face meeting to online. Within the department we are moving our meetings online. We are reducing the number of times that we meet face to face. So, the question we have is, "What's your position on virtual visits in place of face to face visits for family day care educators?" So, how should people be looking at you know, is it OK for them to also move some of their operations?

GLENDA:
Thank you and thanks for that question. I think it's a really good one in the current context. One of the things we're thinking of as a regulatory authority is, our key role is to continue to work with you as a sector and to keep children safe. Now one of the things that this situation gives us the opportunity to do is actually think about the way that we do things and think about how we can potentially do things differently. So, I'm talking to my officers at the moment and my managers about how do we do things differently, how do we continue to reach out to services and to support you whilst not necessarily being in your homes or in your centres. So yeah, look I expect over the coming weeks that you will certainly see us take a bit of a different approach to the way that we regulate and support and visit services. Thanks.

MARTIN:
The next question is about an issue I think people are potentially facing more of and it's from Wendy, it's "Can centres use non ec trained staff to keep a service operating due to trained staff absences?" Abi.

ABI:
Yes. Thank you Martin. So, we have had a lot of different queries come through about waivers and in this particular case, we're probably looking particularly at the ratio qualification and ECT requirement ratios. Sorry, waivers and all of those regs we would consider absolutely granting waivers in those circumstances. Now, it is very much based on the individual services of a service. And when you contact us and talk to us or submit your forms in relation to those waivers, we will need to know the operating environment that you're working in. Please, do let us know that this relates to a COVID-19 situation. And please explain to us the steps that you're going to take to ensure that you have a quality learning environment in place for the children at your service while this waiver would be in operation.

We will be looking to expedite waivers that are in relation to COVID-19. And we will be either waiving or refunding fees for those waivers. One thing that I would say is really important in determining what kind of circumstances you yourselves can offer to ensure that children are kept safe during any waiver period is to always follow the directions of public health and make sure that if there are any questions, you call your public health units and you talk to them about the circumstances. So, it may be that you have had children who are required to isolate and it may be that educators are required to isolate. So, please take those into consideration when you're putting in your applications and explain to us the circumstances as best you can. We need to make sure, as you do, that children are kept healthy, safe and well and that their well-being is supported through this time which does include all the supervision requirements. So, please make sure that you include information regarding that in any application to us.

MARTIN:
Thank you. As this situation has unfolded there have been a lot of flow on effects and we're getting more questions about some of these issues. And one of the questions from Karen is, "Should we cancel or postpone all student work placements at childcare?" Glenda.

GLENDA:
Thanks for the question Karen. Again, look, I'm aware that there's a number of services who have undertaken COVID-19 risk assessments and developed risk mitigation plans and for some services what that means is trying to limit the number of external visitors to the service, What I would say to you is that that's really at this stage a decision for individual services. Obviously, you would be taking health advice in relation to that but at this stage unless there is particular issues around the student or person that you're thinking of bringing into the service then I would say it's an individual service decision. I guess the other thing to consider in this space is that we're a sector where we're often struggling to build our workforce. So, we certainly don't want to be in a situation where students aren't being able to complete placements and that kind of thing. So, it's a kind of a balancing act.

ABI:
I'll just add to that that you may find that your registered training organisation or your university actually has some procedures or policies in place at the moment. We've heard that a lot of those institutions are moving to online delivery so it may be something that- a question that you can actually ask of the organisation with whom your student is registered.

MARTIN:
And we'll be looking to work with providers. I think universities and VET providers across Australia are currently trying to work out how they take their provision online and student placements are certainly also something that they're considering because we don't want to see students unable to graduate because they hadn't been able to achieve the practical outcomes. It's one of those things that we'll be conscious of that this may not be a short period of time. And the last thing we want to see is, you know, an important pipeline of keen people who are doing their study and not be available in the workforce at the end of this. The next question is from Jen. Sorry, I do have to apologise. I can't read the names because of my eyesight - not brilliant. But I can read the question which is, "I feed 100 plus children per day and Coles has stopped our deliveries. It's impractical and not even possible to shop in bulk. I have emailed Coles to try and fix this. Can you contact them on behalf of the OOSH centres to reverse this decision, please. A hungry child is a cranky one." And look we are absolutely aware of that. The supply chain issues is something that has been a question for everybody. You heard the Prime Minister this morning tell people to stop hoarding as it was getting in the way of essential services. We've seen the supermarkets put some responses in place. We should be reassured that there are absolutely enough supplies in Australia. There is just an absolute bottleneck in getting it and the supermarkets are... getting smashed in being able to try and get this stuff out the door. I just wanted people to know in general about supplies that we have certainly been on to... Woolworths this morning and we're speaking to Coles as well. Clearly they have priority for hospitals and aged care but childcare is in the list of services along with schools that are open and that have been open because they provide that kind of safety net for society. So, we’re certainly raising that issue with the supermarkets. I'm not sure that we'll be able to change in the short term their decisions about deliveries but when it comes to the very acute end for people unable to get toilet paper, soap, and we hope nappies at that very acute end we are actually trying to work on an emergency response. So, this is separate to- we won't be able to get everybody food. We'll be able to raise it with the supermarkets but we're also hoping to be able to have a response for that really acute end particularly if you're in a community where there is only one supermarket and it's empty. So, they're the kind of practical responses we're really trying to work on for you and we will raise that issue with both the major supermarkets. The next question is "If a child's been excluded due to ill health and parents disagree with our decision, can they ring the department and is this a notifiable complaint?" Good question.

GLENDA:
Look, I guess the answer to that is parents can absolutely ring the department at any point in time with a complaint. I would say that if your service is excluding a child due to ill health then you're absolutely making the right decision, from the service’s perspective it wouldn't be a notifiable complaint. However, obviously, parents have the right to make complaints and we would triage it according to the seriousness of that.

MARTIN:
Abi?

ABI:
I'd just like to add that it's really important that services do follow the advice of public health and New South Wales Health. So, if you are unsure or the family is unsure, those telephone numbers that we've provided to you earlier can be used by families. They can certainly call and discuss their situation with public health and they need to know and I'm sure services would be informing them that any decisions around that are all based on the advice of public health.

MARTIN:
Thank you. The next question comes from Elizabeth, “Is the Department sending any communications to families to reassure them and support providers?" I mean that's- the question ofcommunications to families is always a challenge for us. The relationship the family has is principally with their service. And we particularly think at this time that maintaining a relationship with families is important. So, one of the things we don't want to do is cut across communications you're sending. What we have done is we've worked with Health to make sure that information is available for either you to send to parents through the Health website or for them to access directly from Health. But we do know parents, you know, parents want information, they’re parents in schools, they’re parents - the same parents who have children in OOSH, they have children in early child care. So we understand that there's probably a need for more information for parents.

ABI:
The other part of that is that we've also been liaising very closely with peak bodies within the sector and we do have an early childhood advisory group that we've been in regular communication with so most days I think we've been in communication with that group and the peak bodies within that group. We've been providing information or gathering concerns from them so that we can make sure that information is quickly and easily passed on as it becomes available.

MARTIN:
The next question is another health question from Shannon. If a child staff member or family member is being tested for COVID -19, is the centre required to notify the regulatory authority or the health department?

ABI:
Look, thank you for your question Shannon. This is a really good question. We would say that the most sensible option in this case is to notify both the regulatory authority that there's a suspected case and also to notify public health and then public health can give you advice about which steps to take in this circumstance. And we would then record the information that you've provided to us in our systems. And then if you have further questions you can call our information and inquiries line and they already have that background available. So yes, we would say the most sensible thing to do in those circumstances is to notify both public health and ourselves.

MARTIN:
Thank you. The next question is about this presentation and it's another good question. Will this presentation be available online after it finishes? Particularly because would be good for boards and committees to see." One of the things we're trying to do in this and in our roadshows is to make more information including videos available that you can watch at your leisure so you don't have to be available at the same time. One of the challenges we will have is that perhaps some of the information we present to you today might change by tomorrow or another day.

So, we really will be putting online frequently asked questions that we'd like to regularly update so that you can bring that back whenever you like and you can actually have a look at the latest advice but we will be making this available. But if we ever take down any information including videos it will be because we absolutely don't want to confuse people by having information that's now out of date. So, that's if you wonder why we have something up now and not tomorrow it's absolutely because of that risk. So, the next question is from Abby. Does the department have any plans to freeze charging services licence fees? Good question. A fight for the microphone.

ABI:
Yeah, look this is a really good question and this is one that we actually haven't heard before. So, this is one that while we don't want to take questions on notice for you, I think this is one that we will have to do. And part of that is because the fees that are set under the national quality framework are fees that are in place across all states and territories. And so we would need to discuss this with our interstate colleagues. And it would be something that we would need to decide on together. As I've said previously for fees for waivers that are related to COVID-19 we will be either refunding those or waiving those. And we understand that in some cases for NQAITS , yes, you actually have to pay the fee to lodge the application because it's a step in the process and as I said, in those cases we would refund those fees. But the question of broader fees for annual fees, we will as I say take on notice and discuss with our states and territories and try and have an answer for you.

MARTIN:
Thank you. The next one's also funding related from Joe, "Will Start Strong and DIP funding continue through any closures?" I think we've probably answered that as much as we can in terms of our understanding of the need for stability. Kristie, is there any other?

KRISTIE:
No, look at this stage our planning is to continue with program and funding delivery as we would expect - no decision has been made to change that. Obviously, it's a very live space in terms of you know advice from the Health Department about the operation of services, the scenarios that we're working through do prioritise stability of funding as a mechanism for supporting the viability of services. As Martin said though, no decision has been made around what that would look like at this point. But I suppose if I can provide some reassurance to say that there's no intention at this point that our funding operations as they exist would stop.

MARTIN:
A question from - good question from Jenny. This is about educators and staff visiting services. “Why is it OK for educators to work with children directly but not for authorised officers to visit face to face? Are the virtual inspections to protect the officers?”

GLENDA:
OK, that's a good question. Look, I think in this environment there as I said earlier, there are some services who are really trying to limit the number of outside or external people visiting their service. We're not saying that we're not doing face to face visits either I think that perhaps that messaging wasn't quite right. What we're saying is we're exploring different ways to visit and to contact services in addition to face to face visits. I mean our priority is to keep children safe. We certainly won't be not visiting services where there are risks and the risk is really what's going to drive that. We also have in the current environment limitations on our officers flying domestically because we want to keep our people healthy as well so that when they come to your service they're not bringing with them you know any illnesses. So, certainly it's not about saying that our officers can't come to services. It's really about just thinking differently about how we might do things in this current environment.

MARTIN:
Thank you. And the next one is from Kelly. And it's a specific question about first aid refresher training. We have scheduled first aid refresher training for educators across our organisation. If these cannot go ahead what does this mean for meeting our regulatory obligations around first aid qualification requirements?" Abi or Glenda.

GLENDA:
I think this is another interesting one. Look, I guess as the REG authority, we're going to take a common sense approach to this. So, I would encourage you if you can't get the face to face refresher training, can you look at other options including online training for your staff would be probably my first response to that. We certainly are not going to be going around targeting services for this type of thing in this environment we're going to take a common sense approach and work with you if you can show us that you've taken the steps to actually try and get the training for your staff and you're doing the right thing, we certainly won't be breaching services for those types of things.

MARTIN:
The next question is another one about closure. What are acceptable grounds for closure i.e. a lack of qualified staff, can't meet the ratios? If we close what would be the impacts on our funding? Are there funding rules about charging fees to parent?" This is a multipart question, I might take them one at a time, "What are acceptable grounds for closure? So, for example lack of qualified staff." So, let's take that first - just the qualified staff.

ABI:
So in terms of qualified staff, there's a difference here between supervision and actual qualification requirements. And so we would expect that supervision for children remains a high priority and that that is very important for children's health safety and well-being. In terms of qualifications for staff, as I described earlier, we do have waiver processes for qualifications for staff. So, I would encourage you that if you are finding it challenging to staff your service with the required qualifications, please speak to us. Please call our information and inquiries line or please submit a waiver application for that qualification for those staff members and we will expedite those waiver applications and we will refund or waive the fees for those applications.

MARTIN:
On acceptable grounds for closure, I think it might be important to say that obviously if public health say you should close for a period of time, which has happened to a number of services, you know you follow that advice and services have been very good in following that. But, in terms of if a service decides that it should close for a reason that's also that, you know, that's a decision for the service as well. So, you know, it's something that you can make your own decision about. Certainly, the department doesn't have powers to require you to remain open. Ratios, I think we've covered- ratios is more of a concern certainly for us.

ABI:
Yes. So, while there are also waivers that can be applied for in terms of meeting your ratio requirements, we would need very clear information about how you would still support a high-quality learning environment for children under those circumstances. And look, in terms of following public health advice if you do need to close based on their advice there is a notification that's required to the regulatory authority and to the public health unit. We would also encourage you please if you do need to close and that can be as we've seen previously it can be for a couple of days just for cleaning to occur. It can be for longer periods of time based on as I say what public health have informed you of, please if you can, please let us know when you reopen again so that we're able to support you in answering any questions you may have when you reopen.

MARTIN:
Thank you. There was also a question about funding about what would happen with funding if you close. I think we've probably gone as far as we could to... answer that and questions about fees is something we'll also have to look at and we'll have some answers for you in our frequently asked questions.

ABI:
Yeah, I'd just like to also add that we believe that the Australian Government Department of Education Skills and Employment have got a webinar that may cover some of the funding questions for childcare subsidy recipients for services that are funded through the Australian Government which we understand is happening on Thursday, the 19th of March. So, if you're watching this before then, and hopefully you are, then I would encourage you, we would encourage you to attend that and to also look at the information sheets that the Australian Government is regularly releasing with regard to its funding arrangements.

MARTIN:
This question is related to - it is a ratio related question. But I think we should go into it because it's a little bit more specific. It's "What happens when our ratios are compromised at short notice and we can't get casual staff to maintain them. If we operate, we are in breach but if we close we're disrupting and not providing essential services to families, and for after school care, these children come directly from school?"

ABI:
So this is probably another one of those common sense situations. As soon as you're able to let us know and if we have a waiver application from you we as I said will expedite them as soon as possible. Our main priority here as I'm sure yours will be is maintaining the health safety and well-being of children and we would consider any and all circumstances relating to any concerns that you have maintaining your ratios. Well, I don't want to speak for Glenda any monitoring or compliance activities would always take into consideration your circumstances and the things that you have done to try and ensure that children are safe in the environments that they're in with you. And look, we have... a very common-sense approach to this and we would be in communication with you. So, please let us know if you're in some of those circumstances and we will work with you through that.

MARTIN:
Thank you, and while, obviously we're being sensible and we're working with you, there will come sometimes when there's a line that we cannot cross for child safety reasons. I don't think the services will be asking for things that are not safe. So, but if that did happen like you know there are some lines that we won't be able to cross and we'll get to that when we know when it comes. The next question is, "What's the recommendation for multi-site children pick up for OOSH for children coming from multiple schools?" That's - I mean that's a health question, I assume about mixing children from different services and that look, that is a question... that I think we might have to defer to our health colleagues because you know for us it is, you know, it's not a regulatory thing it's something that happens and is a normal part of schooling. So, at the moment while schooling operations are normal and health are not providing advice that you shouldn't be doing that. And so so we may have to defer to our health colleagues but you know until there's a change in practice - current practice continues. Have I gone too far colleagues?

GLENDA:
I would agree with that. That's common practice in many OOSH services, I would say until advice is received otherwise then you should continue. Thanks.

MARTIN:
A question from Kate. How will we advocate to the federal government to ensure that allocated and budgeted CCS funding of each long day-care service is redirected to support the financial impact to service operations in the event of closures ensuring wages can be paid?" I would have to say that the message from the sector has been loud and clear. Obviously, we work very closely with our federal counterparts within the bureaucracy. It's clearly not a role for public servants to lobby governments but it's certainly legitimate for us to, you know, let the Commonwealth know of any concerns that you have about viability in the same way we were in state services and in the same way the Commonwealth informs us, if you have any regulatory issues during the State responsibility and certainly tomorrow there's a Commonwealth webinar as well, and certainly should be hooking into that for information from them.

ABI:
And as we mentioned earlier there are those Australian Government fact sheets that are available on their websites. They go into the possible funding arrangements that they have in place now and as Martin said, we're in constant or very close let's say communication with the Australian Government to pass on your concerns. Looking at their current arrangements as of today which is the 18th of March, they are talking about the use of community childcare fund special circumstances grants and so I would encourage services to look into those if they have questions and there are also some small business grants that have been made available through the Australian Government which also your service may be eligible for. So, again have a look at the Australian Government websites for those but we will take those questions, as Martin said, to our Australian Government colleagues, and for those funded services we encourage you to both register for our website and our - sorry - our newsletter updates and also for the Australian Government ones so that you're as up to date as you can be, as situations are changing very rapidly.


MARTIN:
The next question is from Lisa. It's a specific question about asthma so, "We have a number of children in attendance with asthma. Should we be excluding them from services as they may be at a higher risk if they catch the virus?"

GLENDA:
So my understanding on that is that there has been no department of health advice around excluding children from services with asthma unless there is something contrary to that that is released, and I would suggest no you shouldn't be excluding children with asthma.

MARTIN:
Unless there's some specific medical advice about that child, which there may be in some circumstances, so. The next question is "What symptoms should we be looking for when excluding children for ill health at this time?"

ABI:
My comments on this one would be please check the health websites for both the Australian Government and New South Wales Health because there are lists on those websites for symptoms and so any questions you have, check those websites and also if you have outstanding questions talk to your public health unit and they will be able to help you through those.

MARTIN:
And certainly for school parents Mark Scott has been in public saying to parents you know it's not the time to be sending your children to schools if they've got a cold where you normally might ask them to soldier on and you know we'd be expecting the same from parents in all sectors at the moment. Next question is, "Will the relevant departments work together to provide concrete advice for vacation care providers regarding the coming holidays? For example whether gatherings of a certain size are higher risk or whether certain types of excursions are unacceptable?" Well, certainly we are working with the Department of Education and then working with the Department of Health around those kinds of arrangements. As you've seen from the Prime Minister it is very much on COAG’s mind about what the arrangements should be with schools and certainly vacation care's also on their agenda. Advice about excursions- schools are being advised not to undertake excursions, at the moment, and I think it would be pretty obvious that that advice would most likely apply to vacation care as well. But certainly there'll be more advices provided before the holiday period.

GLENDA:
Can I add to the vacation care. One look, I think... in some circumstances, for vacation care if they're undertaking excursions to parks or outdoor environments that actually could create a situation where children are less at risk as well. So, I think we'll have to wait for further advice.

ABI:
Yeah, the most up to date advice we've had from health is to suggest that excursions to aged care facilities don't go ahead. So, if they change and include any further advice, please be assured that we will be passing that on to you as it becomes available.

MARTIN:
Thank you. So next question is very specific about cleaning products. Maybe one of my colleagues know the answer. I'd like to ask about the current cleaning practices. I know that in childcare we use warm water and soap to clean. Are we allowed to use other detergent or disinfectant during this Coronavirus? Also where can we get the current detergent restrictions in childcare?" Is that on notice? It's a good question though.

ABI:
It's one where all the public health advice has been wash your hands, you know, soap and water is the best deterrent for infectious disease spread and particularly in these circumstances. And so we would encourage services to keep doing that. Just I would say it's really important to talk to your families because you may well have children in your care who have allergies and so they may not be able to use certain types of disinfectant or handwashing products. So, it's a discussion with your families and also if you have any questions, again public health is going to be your best place to ask those questions. If we hear any more though and we have any more clarity for you, we will be making sure we put that in our updates so that you have as much information as we do.

MARTIN:
Thank you. Next one is another funding question more specific this time around start strong funding. Will census 2020 continue in August considering this will impact 2021 funding and children may withdraw before the August census period?"

KRISTIE:
So, I just think of the first thing to say about the census is that there's a number of ways that the data is used from the census. It's not only used for funding calculations for community preschools. It is used for that purpose but that's not the only purpose. At this stage, the planning around census delivery is continuing. As you've rightly said that the census operates in August and we've got some time to elapse before August. So, I would expect that a decision would be made around the operation of the census in due course. In relation to funding and the use of that census information to calculate funding, as I've said there's a number of scenarios that we're working through in terms of providing advice around what the funding impacts are as a result of coronavirus or COVID-19 could be on preschools. We aren't- there's no final decision that's been made about that at this stage but we are very aware that there is a lot of concern from services that, should their funding be impacted within the census period, that would have then significant impacts throughout the 2021 funding period. So, we're certainly working around, you know, options for that and we'll continue to do that. So, I think there's something else I was going to say, it just fell out of my mind. I'll leave it.

MARTIN:
There'll be another question on that and we can come back to it. So Gemma has the next question and it's one about which services and licences with schools. If the school holidays are extended, will OOSH services with vacation care programs be covered by their current licences if they choose to open during the extended holiday period. I think that's a probably a specific question that we will have to get back on. I think particularly for government schools there'll be a decision... that can be made centrally about that so it can be communicated.

ABI:
Yes I was going to talk about this in terms of your NQF approval rather than the licence you may hold with your... with the school that you operate from. So, I think that the licence question with your landlord as it were, is one that we would need to take on notice and you may find that there is further information about that either through the school if you are operating on a school site and that would differ if you're in a government school site or a non-government school site. So, the part that I'll talk about is your NQF approval and we would expect a notification of a change to your opening hours. So, while you may normally only be open during the holiday period for a set number of weeks a year, we would expect to hear from you if you're opening for an extra week for example. The other thing that you would need to do in those circumstances is talk to the Australian Government because they may also require you to submit additional information about the sessions of care that you're providing to ensure that your childcare subsidy payments flow smoothly during that time.

MARTIN:
The next question is, "Will services still be able to apply to BASC infrastructure grants or will funding be pulled from that to go into other needs in the sector? Certainly, at this time we don't have advice on anything being stopped or redirected.

ABI:
And that's a question that doesn't necessarily sit with the regulatory authority and the early childhood directorate. It may seem like we have a very broad portfolio and we would be part of this conversation, and we are, but we're not the ones that make the determinations around this question. So, what we can do is pass that question on to the part of the department that actually does manage that and we will make sure that we do that.

MARTIN:
Thank you. This one's about staffing, "If staff are unwell and we cannot replace them, will we be penalised for not operating the service, for example OOSH?"

GLENDA:
Thanks for the question. The answer to that is absolutely not. And I guess we would - we will be applying understanding to the sector particularly in this current context. And I guess we'd ask that as a sector that you apply that same understanding to us so we've encouraged our staff - encouraged our staff if they're not well, they don't come to work that they stay home and self-isolate where they need to and we would expect the same kind of response from the sector.

ABI:
I'll just add to that to say that Glenda's comments here are certainly regarding NQF operations for services. And if you have any questions about the impact that that would have to your child care subsidy payments, please talk to the Australian Government on that.

MARTIN:
I just wanted to check in at this point to let you know that we have had over a thousand questions. So, if you're wondering why we may not have got to your questions so far, at this point of our broadcast we have had over a thousand questions so we have got a team who are doing their best to try and get a wide range of questions out to you across- particularly where there's a common element in those questions. So we are doing our best as I see, please keep sending them in. We may be able to get those questions afterwards into our frequently asked questions particularly when we get a number on the same topic so we can roll them up together because a thousand questions is going to be very difficult for you to get through as well as frequently asked questions. So, the next one is as a safety precaution, "In this current environment, is it reasonable to ask families to wait outside the service whilst educators sign their children in and out?" My concern is that we have each parent signing in and out on the same tablet, I'm disinfecting between each sign in. It's a very specific question.

GLENDA:
I think it's an interesting one and it's really very relevant to the context as well. Look, I was at the bank on the weekend my children were signing a tablet and they did that wiping the disinfectant in between. And I understand why that's a concern to people that we have parents from different families coming and signing a tablet. It's not an ordinary practice that we would have educators signing children in and out. However, in the current context I would think if there was something communicated, if it was clear in your policy that it was a time-limited policy that we would accept that that was an acceptable practice.

ABI:
And I would just add to that, to say that it's also important to explain to your families why you might have put that practice in place just so that they know that actually your reason for doing that is to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of their children.

MARTIN:
The next question is another one about cleaning from Jodie. Can the department work with Health to develop a universal procedure for how to manage cleaning and sanitising? How do we know that we're doing the best practice for COVID-19?" It's a good question. The only caution I'll give is probably ‘universal’. I think it'll be very difficult for us to provide universal given the kind of vast variety of services that we have out there. But I certainly understand that people are looking for further advice on cleaning in particular and that you know in some circumstances it's actually not as hard core as what you see on the news. It's not going around in a hazmat suit spraying things, but there are some practical things about, you know, surfaces that people touch often and so on. And we'll look at, I think we should definitely look at that.

GLENDA:
Yeah, and maybe that's something that we could also refer to health for some further advice on. I mean our services are generally very good at cleaning. And that's one of the things that I think we excel in in this sector is the hand washing, the cleaning, and those processes to keep children safe in any environment. So, I don't think that the advice from health will be too far from what we're already doing.

ABI:
I'll just add to that in thatit's a great opportunity for you to enrich your educational program with children as well to explain to them you know, why this is really important at this time and to use that as part of your quality area one educational program and practice. And we have seen that there are a number of resources available on the web - on websites, on the Internet that can help you to explain that to children and to talk about COVID-19 in a safe and child friendly manner. So, we would encourage you to explore those resources and where we can, we will also make sure that there are links to those resources for you on our website.

MARTIN:
Thank you. So the next one's a specific A and R question. It's from Olivia who missed the first few minutes due to technical difficulties. So we do apologise for that. We do have that wasn't at our end. But if people have been having difficulties we would actually like to know. It's the first time we've run this as well, so actually if you have had problems getting in, asking questions if it is breaking up for you, if there's anything that might be at our end would really love to know that feedback as well so that we can kind of improve the experience for you as we go. So, the question is, "From what I heard so far, can you please clarify if we are awaiting our A and R scheduled for April 9 but no set date given. Are they going to go ahead or are authorised officers not undertaking A and R visits? I think it would be worth repeating.

GLENDA:
Thanks Olivia and sorry for those who heard my response earlier. Look, at this stage we are certainly continuing to conduct assessment and rating visits. We know that services have put, in many cases a fair bit of preparation into assessment and rating visits. We give you a twelve-week period in which we will be visiting you. We certainly will be making contact with services to confirm those visits as they come up. If services have a reason why they would - they don't want the assessment and rating visit to go ahead at the moment and it's COVID-19 related, we will absolutely accommodate any requests to delay the assessment and rating visit but we also understand that there will be many services for whom they want to actually proceed. They want us to continue to come out to services and work with you. I guess the only caveat I would put on that is that obviously that's reliant on the health of our staff. And so like all sectors at the moment, we have potential to be impacted directly so wherever we have staff available to come to you and you want us to come, we'll be there.

MARTIN:
I have a question and in fact this is well picked up by someone because we did have a question on this before and I think we answered a different question. So thank you for clarifying because this is the question – “Can FDC services do virtual visits to educators?" I think we talked about our educators sorry our AOs doing virtual visits. I don't want to put you on the spot. This may be one we have to come back to but...

GLENDA:
I'm feeling on the spot. (LAUGHTER) Look, I think that family day care services already use a range of mechanisms to work with their educators. And sometimes it's a visit to the home and sometimes it's a phone call or it's an email or it's you know a range of different... I guess ways to monitor your educators. I would say that provided we are able to see that there's good coverage, so the educators are being well supported and monitored as required. Then I don't think that we would have an issue with services using different mechanisms to undertake that monitoring. One further thing I guess in relation to family day care advice that we received recently is around if there is anybody in an educator home who's subject to quarantine, then that family day care educator should not be operating just to be clear about that.

MARTIN:
Thank you. Now this is abroader question that we'll all face I think. So should services be reviewing their policies and procedures for dealing with infectious diseases and incident, injury, trauma and illness in light of COVID-19 and will you be advising this?

ABI:
So, thank you for your question, I think this has come from Sharon. Sharon, we don't have a requirement for you to do this but it may be sensible for you to have a look at your current policy. Make sure that all your educators are familiar particularly if you have new educators who may not be as across all of your policies and procedures and also talk to your families about your policies and procedures. If you have questions as I've said before, please talk to public health and New South Wales Health. They'll be able to give you some more specific examples but there may be a lot of practices that you're already undertaking in terms of managing infectious diseases that you can continue to mount to implement through the Covid-19 situation. So, it really is at your discretion as to whether you review your policies and procedures at this time.

MARTIN:
Thank you. Jill has a specific question about “As a community-based preschool if at the last minute we don't have enough staff, can members of our management committee as the approved provider count in our ratios?"

ABI:
So in this scenario, it's a difficult one to answer, black and white, because your management committee may be comprised of people who actually do have education and care qualifications and so could normally count in your ratios anyway. So, it really does depend on the circumstances of the committee members that you are considering. If you've got any questions though with regard to whether you would need a waiver to include those staff in your ratios, please contact us and talk to our information and enquiries team and our approvals area will be more than happy to answer those and to talk that through with you on a case by case basis.

MARTIN:
Thank you. The next question is a funding question. “Will grant expenditure timeframes such as the community grant be extended due to not being able to carry out the activities we planned such as training?" Kristie.

KRISTIE:
Good question. And again I'd say we will take a sensible approach to this so if you have been funded for a community grant activity that is no longer suitable or appropriate within the circumstances, we certainly won't be - I think as Glenda said earlier, you know out with that big stick trying to get you- you know will be sensible about it. We already have arrangements in place on an ad hoc basis where extensions to acquittal and those sorts of activities are considered. So, I'd encourage you if you've got a particular concern or a situation that you're concerned about to email us through at the ECE funding inbox. and any funded service would have access to that. But we can certainly make sure it's available with the slide presentation details. And where ever it's sensible, we'll certainly be looking at what the acquittal and expenditure timeframes are for funding to be able to make block arrangements around those I suppose or program level arrangements around those where that's a more sensible approach to take to support services at the moment. You know, I think the focus that we have will be you know not on penalising services who've received funding for legitimate activities because they didn't undertake them when they were expected to. It will be more about making sure that we're providing the flexibility to allow those outcomes to still be delivered to children and if that means we have to look at timeframes then, that's what we'll be doing.

MARTIN:
Thank you. The next question is a kind of worst-case scenario question. So, "If there's a nationwide closure of education and care services do all services need to notify the regulatory authority and public health that they are closing?"

ABI:
This is a really, really good question. We would... thank you Amanda for it. As I say, it's a really really good question. We'd want to undertake as admin-burden free process as we could. And so my initial answer would be while the law and the regs do actually require you to notify us and to notify public health from a regulatory authority perspective we would - we would accept just a very quick email that says this is the name of my service and this is when I closed, and no need for you to put that through the NQAITS . If you're able to, great. But if you, if it's not practical in your circumstances, send us a very short sharp quick email and we will lodge that for you. It is important that we do keep our records up to date and as I said to you earlier, if you do need to close whether it's en masse or whether it's for a specific length of time we would also really appreciate you letting us know when you reopen again. And as I say if you have any questions around that please, do get in touch.

MARTIN:
That's great. So, the next question is from Helen. “If the government announces that primary and secondary schools are closed, does this automatically mean that all early childhood settings will be closed as well?" I think kind of simple answer to that is 'no, it does not.' So, the government will be making decisions and they know it's possible they could make a decision that said you know schools will be closed. Other services can be open. There'll be a range of options that would be open to them. Some of the complicating factors may come in. If it was a service on a school site and there might be considerations around that.

GLENDA:
I think that advice would come from Department of Health if that if that was the case rather than us at early childhood education.

ABI:
And we really do appreciate the really important role that education and care services play across our community. And we have particular consideration for emergency workers and for those critical workers who may actually need to use education and care to ensure that they can still support our community in the way that they need to through this situation. So, we just wanted to reiterate to you that we very much appreciate the work that you're doing with children in this time and that yes, we do expect that if you're open that's great, and we would like to support you to stay that way, however we can, for as long as possible.

MARTIN:
The next question gets to really our point about you know the department being open and the sectors still running and we all need to do some business which is from Jackie and it's – “Will upcoming centres be delayed in opening due to fewer face to face visits from the Department?"

ABI:
I'll take this one again because this is probably a combination kind of response from myself and from Glenda. Look, it is our intention that we will undertake as many visits in this vein to pre-approval visits as possible in this time, but it will be dependent, as Glenda already said, on the health of our staff and if we're not able to undertake those visits, we will let you know. But it is our intention that we will still be progressing service approval applications, and that visits would still be organised during this time.

MARTIN:
Thank you. So, the next question relates to the announcement this morning, it's from Louisa. Eyesight again is failing me. Our OOSH service is licenced for and have in attendance more than 100 children. How does the new announcement from the Prime Minister this morning affect us?" Now I'm pretty sure it's my understanding that all early childhood services are counted in the same category as schools which means that they are in the category that are exempt from the limits to number of children indoors. Workplaces are exempt there are a large number of places that are exempt from that number. And certainly in the category of services all early childhood services would be in that. Thank you. Next question. Just to remind you so slido hashtag X224 for any questions. “Would it be possible for the New South Wales Government and Australian Government to hold a joint webinar? It's difficult to run our services and attend multiple webinars a joint message would be helpful." Yes absolutely. Good point, I guess you know I'd like to extend the invitation to our Commonwealth colleagues here today. I know you're out there working with us. Seriously, look you know we really value on the road shows that you have to deal with two levels of government. You know that's one of the features of Federation, we like to make that as less annoying if at all possible. We certainly have the Commonwealth come to our roadshows and yep that's a very good point and we'll certainly look to include the Commonwealth where we can have a joint response. And I think particularly as we get through this and we all start being able to answer some of your questions I think that will also be helpful as well, we can actually work together.

ABI:
And we have also looked at the possibility and we're going to try and organise for ourselves multiple versions or multiple webinars at different times and through the coming weeks so that people who may not have been able to attend this one but had a burning question that they wanted to ask, we'll be able to do that in the coming weeks.

MARTIN:
The next question is from Ellie. And it's another good question. “If the school holidays are extended, surely the aim is to keep large groups of children apart and the implication is that OOSH centres should be closed for the duration of the holidays and the extension." I think it's a good question. There are a lot of parts of this that you know are a matter of balance and we've seen governments and health in particular trying to balance these. So, for example the social distancing, we've already alluded to that, you know, the advice to stay one point five metres. We know in schools and in childcare centres you know we have to take a pragmatic and a sensible approach. Certainly, health will be making the decision about this. But in making that decision you know part of it, they're not just thinking about each individual instance. It really is a public health response so they may look at that and say it's a higher risk to have everything shut down and health care workers having nowhere to send their children and having to stay home than it is to have the children. Certainly, I don't think health will be putting children in danger and certainly not looking to put educators in danger. But I think it's an issue they will look at and often they're balancing up multiple objectives and not just a straightforward you know, if this happens then that also happens.

ABI:
I'd just like to reiterate a point that Glenda made earlier about excursions during this time and we know that vacation care often does undertake a number of excursions and your risk assessments during this time and your authorisation discussing with parents, with families is going to be really important in your decision making about what kind of excursions and what kind of vacation care activities you undertake. And so we would encourage you to have those conversations to consider the risks that might be apparent in any of those excursions and make your decisions sensibly and if public health advice changes then please heed that advice and consider that when making your plans.

MARTIN:
The next question is something we've just alluded to and from Renee it's "How do educators within centres implement social distancing with children without compromising the quality of care given particularly if they did present with a temperature or if they are unwell?" Kind of two questions in that but related.

ABI:
So, in terms of social distancing with children we do appreciate that that is going to be very challenging and that the best things that we can at this stage encourage you should do your handwashing and your regular kind of hygiene practices and but we particularly understand for very young children that social distancing just isn't practicable in some early childhood services. If they're presenting with a temperature or if they're unwell, then we would expect that you don't accept them into your service for the day. And if you have any questions about that, please talk to public health and talk to your families as well.

MARTIN:
Thank you. So, the next question is “Should the government allow services to continue to provide care for children whose parents work in the healthcare sector or essential services?" I think I've alluded to that a number of times I just think people should know and the Prime Minister talked about it this morning. You know people are absolutely aware of the important role, this absolutely critical role the sector plays in allowing the entire healthcare workforce to go to work and it's not just health care. We also, you know, we need water to run, we need electricity, we need our fridges running at this time. So, certainly I think people should be comforted that this is absolutely on the Prime Minister's agenda and every other business agenda as well. The next question is a specific question, “If someone in an educator or child’s family is being tested for COVID-19 can they still attend the service?" So, it's about being tested.

ABI:
In this circumstance as we've said before, your first port of call should be to your public health unit and to take the advice of New South Wales Health. They will have advice for you on this particularly where there are suspected cases, where there's testing occurring and also for confirmed cases, so please heed their advice.

MARTIN:
So, another A&R question from Rebecca. “I understand the explanations for request to postpone A and R visit but will services be requested as per the normal schedule? I.e. will you be issuing new QIP requests and those kinds of things?"

GLENDA:
Thanks Rebecca. The answer to that is yes, we will. And the reason is that we know that it takes services some time often to prepare either your QIP or your self-assessment. And so we'll be taking this opportunity to actually work with services particularly where they're opting in to the self-assessment process to be able to spend some time on the phone before wecome out to visit you to make sure that you're in the best possible position for your next assessment and rating. What we don't want to be in is a situation where we don't let services know who are coming on upcoming schedule and you know where we're able to freely visit and you know things returned to normal,nd then we have a situation where we're having to wait. So, use this time to prepare to do your self-assessment, to get your QIP ready and services we will be notifying you if you're on the upcoming list for assessment rating.

MARTIN:
Maria has a question about this seminar that we're giving. She's having problems with the Internet cutting out. We understand that happens. She wants to know if we'll be available online. This will be available. But I think more importantly frequently asked questions covering a lot of these issues will be available on the department's website and will be updated so we won't be able to answer all of those questions today. But we're really hoping to get as many as possible up for you. And increasingly over time. We would encourage you to look at those questions because they might change as the health advice changes and they'll be the most authoritative source of information. The next question is "Families are not sending their children to school but they want family day-care educators to take the children during school hours." Interesting question. Can educators take those children who are not going to school?" I haven't had this one. This is new.

GLENDA:

I think, look, I don't really know the answer to this but I'm going to make something up. Now, I think that this will be an issue for the Commonwealth Government for subsidy funding because they certainly look at, where children are of school age generally speaking, they don't provide funding during school hours. So that would be I think the issue that I would come up with in that regard. Did you want to add to that, Abi?

ABI:
Yes, I was just going to add that this is one that we would need to investigate a little bit further and there may be crossovers with the education legislation and about whether when a child is of school attendance age whether they're actually attending a school for a certain period of time. But as I said that that's something that we would have to look into and try and post a frequently asked question answer in relation to that very good question.

MARTIN:
The next question is from Daniel. And “the issue is if primary and secondary schools are forced to close and ECEC services remain open, how do we satisfy parents and educators that its safe to continue to send children to ECEC settings when schools have been closed?" I think partly this does get down to that health messaging and the messages we need to send out and probably you know something we need to help you to be able to reinforce to parents because you've got a much closer relationship with them. And you know you're the source of trusted advice as well. You know, if health have decided that those services can remain open, I think people should be assured that it is safe to use them. And that's advice about it.

I'd just like to thank our team for putting this question up and that "I've honestly found this type of road show great. You're answering the questions which is what we need." So, thank you. Look, at this point I would like to call out our team, you know, Glenda, Abi, Kristie and there's a huge number of people working in early childhood at the moment who are working round the clock. And I know that it's been frustrating and that you may not see the result of all that work straight away. But just I wanted you know there's an absolute dedicated bunch of people. Glenda's people are across the state who are you know, absolutely standing by ready to help you. They're having to really change quickly what they're doing. They're really thinking through the different ways in which we can support you during this time and a different way of working. We also know that should we get to a situation where there were services close for a while or there was a kind of a broader scale issue across the state you know we have people who are volunteering and ready to go out to services when they need to. You know, much like emergency services workers would so you know it really is. And you know you guys are on the frontline you're doing the heavy lifting as well and it's your role with families and each other, that's really helpful. I would like to say look, out of the thousands of questions there are a lot of questions about CCS and about Commonwealth funding. And we do know they're specific. We really do encourage you to dial into the Commonwealth live stream event tomorrow at 11:30. And we've also heard the message that you'd like to see the Commonwealth and State appearing together to answer questions. So, look we really do appreciate that. And it's something we're taking on board.

The next question is from Rachel, I think, “Why is it OK for the EC sector to be in close physical contact with each other in sometimes large groups and restrictions on groups in general have been placed. So many children have colds at the moment.” Look I think that the answer to that is the same answer for schools which is we understand that, you know, it's... the kind of one size fits all policy. You know, if we did apply a kind of 100 as a kind of indoor limit, then the question is would we just close services that are above 100 which are ones that can distance people to keep them in the group smaller than 100. I think you know those are things that are practical considerations and the decision by government is certainly that services are exempt from those and should remain open. But we do understand social distancing is an issue. People are going to increasingly have colds over the coming period of time. I think the advice on that is clear that you know we have normal procedures about not having children in services who have illnesses in particular and that you know we should be working with parents to make sure that they're not in services at the moment and particularly with staff being vulnerable to it. We know, you know, it's a number one issue if one knows in the sector that if you work with young children you really are exposed to a lot of different bugs.
Next question is about waivers. “In relation to waivers, it was advised that the waiver fee will not be charged. However, it's not clear on NQA-IT as it still requires payment. Will this wave a fee be reimbursed?”

ABI:
I love these questions. This is a very easy yes question to answer, because, as I explained earlier, yes, you're absolutely right. For a number of applications in the NQAITS, you do need to make the payment for your actual application to be lodged with us but then yes we will work to refund that fee and reimburse that fee as soon as we possibly can. I would say when it's related to COVID-19 so just I’ll add that on the end.

MARTIN:
So, Chris and Fiona, “I have educators from a high-risk age range for COVID-19. Ethically, I don't think they should be in a social setting such as a preschool." This is a tricky one. We can certainly understand your concern and we would absolutely bow to health advice on this. I think it's one for services. There's not a blanket ruling about this. There's nothing about how old someone can be to work in health or in a school setting or as you know in an early childhood setting. So I think until there's further health advice on that it's, I think, if it was a major concern health would have clear advice on it, would be my feeling about it. But we can look at that but I think that's one that services might have to think about themselves about how they feel about it. The next question is "Can a representative from health be present the next session as many the questions haven't been answered.” That is a very good point. We absolutely acknowledge that upfront that a lot of these are going to be related to health. Certainly, we can invite them. But one of the problems you know I don't want to lead to another frustration which is I think they would have to take the questions back because the answers we want to give you - which is why we relying on following these up with written answers because the answers we give you we want to be you know enduring and absolutely right and able to be used in every setting at every time. So, in fact it's not one person in health who can provide- so when we say health it's a whole group of people it's not just- there's not just one health person who represents the whole health sector. But look we certainly take that on board and if we could have Commonwealth and health here as well, that's a useful suggestion as we do understand the frustration of that. The question is "Who can we contact at the department regarding pre-school funding?" And that's from Jenny.

KRISTIE:
So, you contact the ECEC funding team so you can contact us through either the 1 800 number which I think all of these will go up later if not they're all on the website. So, the information and inquiries line or you can email us at ecec.funding@det.nsw.edu.au and happy to engage in individual conversations about funding through those standard mechanisms.

MARTIN:
Thank you. Look I just want to mention that we have about eight minutes to go on this. So, we have time for a few more questions and then we'll give you some information at the end about what you can do next. So, the next question is from Haley. “I've read in the Department of Education communication to schools that masks are not effective measure. Therefore no member of staff should need to wear a mask. Is this prohibiting staff from wearing a mask? I have a staff member who'd like to but not sure if this is contradicting the department guidelines." I don't think it's compulsory not to but certainly the advice is it's not effective.

GLENDA:
It's certainly not any breach of regulations that I'm aware of. So, in terms of early childhood education regulations it wouldn't be a breach of those regulations for a staff member to wear a mask.

MARTIN:
And I think for the department, it's part of the general health advice. It's not effective in containing the virus and probably just leads to a sense of overall increased concern about it when it's not an effective protection. Elizabeth question - "If government announces a closure of ECEC services would this include family day care services as well?"

ABI:
This is a... a question that, because we're not at this stage now, we don't have a yes or no answer for this. So, it will be a... keep watching,.. keep an eye on all of the communication channels and if a decision is made around this then it will be communicated to you through our ECED updates. Please subscribe to those - to those emails. And there's also an SMS notification service that Martin will be describing to you later. So, if anything changes regarding that, we will let you know.

MARTIN:
The next question is about “How long does services who are ‘working towards’ have to lodge their request for reassessment under the free process if they lodge self-assessment?" Is there a time period for them.

GLENDA:
Oh thanks, Martin.. The answer to that is no there's not. I actually had a conversation just yesterday with a provider who was wanting to know, should I be doing this now. And my answer to them is yes because if you let us know that you want to be reassessed we can work with you now to make sure that you're ready for that reassessment when it happens. So, at this stage there is no time limit- what we want to make sure is it services when when they come to us they're feeling like they're ready for reassessment. So they've done the work, they've done some self-assessment of their service and they think, OK, we think we've lifted our quality and we're ready for the regulator to come out and do a visit with us.

MARTIN:
Great. I have a question from Steve who's been thinking ahead and it's certainly not one that I've had on my radar yet. So, "Hi, thanks for this opportunity for questions. Should schools close and long day-care services remain open, are we able to have the school aged children of our educators attend our service so that educators continue to work to get the service running. Would that affect our ratios?" Good question.

ABI:
This is a really good question Steve. Thank you for asking it. It's one that we will look at in greater detail because there are a number of different intersecting aspects of this question. In terms of a quick answer for you now, which is to say it's not going to be a comprehensive one but we will look at this in the FAQs. Theoretically, there would be a difference because we have different ratios in place and different qualification requirements for services that offer education and care to children who are over preschool age. So, we would need to look into that on an individual case by case basis. But if you are in that situation, please contact us directly. And we would work through with you the circumstances in your particular case.

MARTIN:
OK look, thank you. That is all the time we've got questions for before we lose the live stream. We do want to thank you for this. There are thousands and thousands of questions that have come in. I understand we've been able to get through 60 of them so it might be a small proportion but we hope it was a representative sample of some of the questions that you have.

In terms of what you can do from now, we do update if there's any regulatory change you know such as you know previously with countries that you are allowed to let people in from if there's any kind of major change we will send out an e-mail to all services. But in case you missed that e-mail or you want to know that there's new advice that's gone up on our website, you can actually register for an SMS advisory service and we'll put that information up on the screen so you text the word subscribe to the number 0 4 2 9 9 1 8 9 2 4. So, you just text subscribe to 0 4 2 9 9 1 8 9 2 4. And that way anyone who subscribes to that you can have multiple people in your service subscribed to know that there's an update on the website.

You can send in additional questions and we'll do our best to answer them. Also, you can register for the online session the Commonwealth has tomorrow from 11:30 to 12:30, we'll send you further information about our online roadshow so our roadshows will shift to an online format where we'll have more interactive sessions and chances for you to ask questions because what we really did want to do is have your chance to provide feedback, give you some thinking about what we're doing next and be able to get some input from you.

We also let you know that the enquiries line is available for questions, we may given, you know, we've got four people in the leadership team here today and we have not been able to answer every question for you but the enquiries line can at least log your concerns and we'll know what kind of information you need. And our hope would be that we can get as much as possible in these frequently asked questions online so that you can have consistent and clear advice that you can use. So, the enquiries lines available at 1 800 6 1 9 1 1 3. So apart from that, we'd like to thank you all for participating today.

We know it's quite difficult to watch these things in the online format for a long time. We do appreciate how many people have logged in today. We know that not everyone's been able to get here today because of the timing and so on. And we certainly look forward to providing with more information and to engaging with you through the roadshows in the future. So, thank you very much.

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