It is nothing short of overwhelming to get started at short-notice and operate in conditions none of us ever anticipated. With limited guidance and a lot of unknowns ahead, the best way forward is to take cues from other centres that have adapted successfully, follow the Government guidelines and create a Site Operation Procedure (SOP) that best suits your individual setting.
We spoke to many of our customers who have been operating during this period and created a guide based on their experiences and guidelines from the Government. As the timelines for re-opening are different for England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, you can adapt your planning based on the time you have at hand.
1. Familiarise yourself with Government Guidelines
As the guidelines are continually evolving, make sure you keep on top of the latest updates. We have included a list of sources at the end of the article for links to rolling updates from government websites.
2. Take a survey of the number of staff and students who will return.
- The staff/children who are planning to return immediately
- The expected return date for children who would like to defer their return
3. Amend/create new policies and procedures
The additions/amendments to consider are
- Only children and staff who are free of symptoms or have completed the required isolation should attend your setting
- Similarly, only parents who are symptom-free and have completed the required isolation may pick up/drop off their children
b) Daily screening
Make sure you do a temperature check for all staff and children on arrival and during frequent intervals if required. Have a clear plan about:
- What kind of PPE each staff member will wear
- Where the screening will take place
- How to record the temperature and any other visual observation of symptoms, such as persistent coughing
c) Drop-offs and pick-ups
- Limit pick-ups and drop-offs to one parent/child
- Stagger timings where possible
- Arrange drop-offs and pick-ups at the entrance of your setting or alternatively create a drop-off zone in your parking area and designate a staff member to collect each child from the car
- When parents are waiting to drop-off or collect the children, make sure they maintain social distancing and stay in marked-out areas
- Get your staff to mark the children’s attendance and not the parents. Allocate individual tablets/registers to each staff member, where possible. If more than one person uses your registers/devices, make sure they are disinfected after each use
d) Physical Distancing /Grouping
- Organise children into small groups or ‘bubbles’, and make sure these bubbles do not mix during the day
- All care routine such as meal times, nappy changing and toileting should be within the bubbles, wherever possible
- Limit outdoor spaces to different bubbles during different times of the day
- Distance beds/cots wherever possible
- Wherever possible, the staff should stay within the bubble of children they are allocated to and not come into contact outside their groups
- To ensure social distancing must be maintained during break times as well, consider how to stagger break times and subdivide team spaces allocated for break times
e) Management of toys, resources and learning activities
Do a risk assessment of all activities and outdoor trips. Avoid learning activities that involve materials that are not easily washable. Suspend the use of sandpits, water trays, stuffed toys and malleable material like play-dough.
f) Cleaning and waste disposal
- Create a cleaning schedule that covers furniture, surfaces and children’s toys. Consider if you can alter your opening times to enable thorough cleaning of all equipment, every day
- Have a plan in place to clean and sanitise all communal areas, touchpoints and handwashing facilities regularly
g) Responding to suspected cases
- If a child shows suspected coronavirus symptoms, they should be collected as soon as possible and isolated at home following the latest NHS guidelines
- Allocate a well-ventilated room/area for the child to wait until they are collected
- Ensure only a staff member from the child’s ‘bubble’ is in charge of them during this time. Make sure they have suitable PPE on during this time
- Allocate a person to deep clean the area immediately, wearing appropriate PPE
- If a staff member shows symptoms while working at your centre, make sure they return home immediately and isolate in line with NHS guidelines
h) Operational procedures
If you are using Cheqdin or other centre management systems, consider switching completely to online registrations, booking and billing. This can help minimise direct contact with parents and allow you to access all records remotely.
i) Managing supplies
- Create a list of all the supplies you would need, including those for infection control such as cleaning products, thermometers, gloves, masks and aprons
- Implement a monitoring system for PPE to ensure a steady stock is available for all those who require it
- Consider if you will have a contingency stock of washable tabards or aprons if the PPE runs out. Set out clear instructions on how to wash and handle them at very high temperature, separate from other nursery washing
- If the food supply is interrupted, create a procedure to source food from alternative sources, following food safety and hygiene processes
4. Make sure all children’s /staff records are up to date
The important documents to check are:
- Emergency contacts
- Health/ Allergy information
If you are using Cheqdin at your centre, our post on Updating Registration Forms has detailed steps on how to trigger automated emails to parents to update their child’s registration details and consent forms.
Similarly, check all the staff’s health and training records are up to date.
5. Health and safety check for building and premises
Carry out a health and safety check of your building and premises, including legionnaires checks, especially if you had shut down operations completely during the lockdown
6. Develop a contingency plan in case of another temporary shutdown
As there are still the chances of another wave of infections, make sure you have a contingency plan in place to prepare your centre for another temporary shutdown. It will be useful to have plans in place for online lessons, activities and parent communication.
7. Create a schedule for training staff to follow the new protocols
Consider providing a few separate training sessions to familiarise staff with the new procedures. This can either be done at your setting or if possible, via virtual conferencing. Some of the key points to demonstrate are:
- Changes to cleaning and hygiene requirements
- Rearrangement of room structure
- The use of PPE and instructions on how and when to change gloves and masks safely
- How to do screening and spot symptoms
- How to handle a suspected case
8. Deep-clean classroom and equipment
Consider hiring professional cleaners to do a deep clean
9. Mark out areas for social distancing
Use tape or paint to mark crosses or lines to enable social distancing. Remember to include all areas including:
- Entrance/ Check-in points
10. Communicate new plans with parents
Create a detailed email or newsletter and update parents on all the new procedures going forward, including :
- New procedures for pick-ups/drop-offs
- Changes to opening hours
- Measures for social distancing
- The things children can and cannot bring in with them
- Updates to sickness policy
- Changes in billing/payments, if any
Don’t forget to run through these points again and send a ‘first day back’ email on the day before opening.
And, that’s about some of the major changes to consider before you open your doors to the little ones again. As this will be a whole new journey for all of us – with no precedents to turn to for reference – each one of us will have to get the ball rolling with the guidelines at hand and improvise as we go.
Let’s all hold hands and figure out the best way to weather this storm!
Links to Government Guidelines for Childcare Settings:
Early Years Wales: Latest information and advice on COVID-19
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