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Childcare providers hit out at lack of financial support as 'play-pod' guidelines issued

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Crèches have been issued with a raft of new coronavirus guidelines but the Government has offered no detail on financial supports childcare providers insist they need to reopen.

'Play pods' of children who stay in the same groups and share the same toys, staggered arrival times and restrictions on the use of play dough are to become a feature of childcare in the coming months.

The Government is under pressure from the childcare sector and Opposition politicians to provide financial support to help crèches reopen their doors.

There was heavy criticism when attempts to find a solution to providing childcare for health service staff failed.

Now many childcare providers are warning they may not be able to reopen at all without extra financial support from the State.

Seas Suas represents independent early learning and care providers.

"Guidelines will not meet our significant costs, overheads and don't pay bills. Mortgages, salaries, utilities and more must be paid for in order to operate," a spokesperson said.

"That is before a single euro is spent on Covid-19-related safety requirements."

The group expressed concern that childcare providers would close down outright and said the sector would require further support through the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) as services reopen on a phased basis.

The spokesperson welcomed the guidance but said a "cold commercial crisis" needed to be addressed. The children of "essential workers" are to be prioritised when crèches are due to reopen on June 29.

However, a spokeswoman for Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said the children of other workers who needed childcare would also be allowed to return to crèches if there was capacity. Ms Zappone said she hoped existing programme support payments would provide some working capital for reopening childcare centres.

She also said along with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe she was working on the possibility capital grants could be provided. Mr Donohoe offered no commitment that the TWSS would be extended specifically for the childcare sector until the end of the year.

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He said that it was likely the overall scheme would be extended beyond its current end date but he would spend time examining its impact on parts of the economy and it was "far too early" to form a view on the nature of the TWSS in the future.

Ms Zappone said the reopening of childcare centres would be "as child centred as possible" with the focus on their wellbeing and ability to play with their friends again.

She said the children could not do social distancing but would be grouped into 'play pods' with assigned staff members.

Ms Zappone said the guidance from the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre indicated the size of the play pod can be in line with current childcare regulations.

That means, for example, children under the age of one can continue to be in a group of six with two adults.

"There is a risk. Every time we ease restrictions it will bring a risk," Ms Zappone said.

But she said the threat of coronavirus transmission needed to be weighed up against the risk of children not returning to early education and childcare.

Under the new guidance that was drawn up by the HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre, drop-offs should be organised to maintain distance between parents and childcare workers. There should be two metres between the cots of young children from different pods.


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