ACA releases updated FAQ’s to support members concerned about COVID-19
The national branch of the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) has issued an updated list of FAQ’s on the coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, as it applies to the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, effective 6 March 2020.
The update came, ACA said, as the organisation continues to receive multiple calls from “concerned members” looking for support and ideas about how the various aspects of the COVID-19 management may affect the day-to-day running of services.
On 29 February, the Federal Government updated its advice to schools, early childhood centres, schools and parents based on the latest medical advice, indicating that children and staff should notify and not attend a school or early learning service if they have:
- left, or transited through mainland China in the last 14 days (they must isolate themselves for 14 days from leaving mainland China)
- left, or transited through Iran on or after 1 March (they must isolate themselves until 14 days after leaving Iran)
- been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus in the last 14 days (they must isolate themselves for 14 days after the date of last contact with the confirmed case).
Since that time, the Federal Government has also issued advice relating to travellers from the Republic of Korea.
Frequently asked questions:
What to do if you suspect a child or staff member has COVID-19 or has come in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19:
Services are advised to notify and seek advice from their local Public Health Unit when they suspect an infectious disease has impacted their service. A list of local Public Health Units may be found here.
If a service, either voluntarily, or as advised by their local Public Health unit, is closed:
Any incident that requires the Approved Provider to close or reduce the number of children attending a service for a period requires notification to the State Regulatory Authority within 24 hours.
If a child or staff member at your service is diagnosed with COVID-19:
Any risk or incident of infectious disease should be reported to:
- The relevant State Regulatory Authority; and,
- The local Public Health Unit.
What if a child needs to be excluded from care?
In the event that a child is asked to isolate as a result of either having COVID-19, or being exposed to it, the ACA recommended that services contact their state Department of Health, and also the early childhood unit within their education department – or notify via the National Quality Agenda IT System (NQAITS).
Communicating with families
Families may express concern about the health and safety of their child or children when attending care, as a result of the presence of COVID-19 in the community, the ACA said.
The response recommended by the ACA was to “take a proactive approach and send your families a notice to reassure them about the health status at your centre (ie. whether there have been any suspected cases or exclusions) and also let them know that you are following the advice of the Federal and State Governments.”
Families could also be referred to the Australian Government information for families and for early learning services. It is important to note, the ACA said, that this advice is dynamic, and subject to change. Services are encouraged to check back often to ensure they have access to current advice.
Families who choose not to attend care
CCS is payable for allowable absences. If a child has exceeded the 42 days of allowable absences, then no CCS is payable and the family is liable for the full fee. If a family has reached their 42 allowable absences in this financial year, additional absences can be applied for.
In instances where the child is ill, a medical certificate should be provided. Once the centre has a copy of this they can adjust software settings to have additional allowable absences (ie have CCS applied for those days).
In instances where the child is not ill, but is self excluding due to exposure to COVID-19, families should visit their local GP and get a certificate stating that the child has been excluded as per the Department of Health guidelines. The centre should take a copy of this certificate, and can then adjust software settings to have additional allowable absences (ie. have CCS applied for those days)
Families who have yet to commence care, or who are due to have their final day of attendance, but who are unable to do so due to COVID related reasons will not receive CCS during this time, as they are not physically in attendance.
Paying staff, covering leave
The health and safety of staff should always be paramount in leadership decisions, the ACA said.
If an employee informs a service that they may have contracted the coronavirus, or have been exposed to someone who has the coronavirus, they may use the following accrued entitlement, they added:
- Personal/carer’s (sick) leave: This leave is available for use where an employee is not fit for work. Employers can ask for a medical certificate certifying an employee’s absence from work due to illness or injury if required by the employer.
Employees will be unfit for work in circumstances where they should be isolated from others in accordance with the Australian Government advice outlined above.
- Annual leave/long service leave: This can be used by employees who do not have enough personal/carer’s leave, where they have accrued the relevant entitlement. Employees requesting to take this form of leave should be permitted to do so, unless refusing to grant the leave is reasonable in the circumstances.
- Directing employees not to attend work: If you have a reasonable suspicion an employee may be exhibiting signs of coronavirus then you may direct an employee to leave work or not attend the workplace and attend a medical professional for assessment.
However, in this event, the employer should pay for the employee to see the doctor as well as for their time away from the workplace if the employee does not agree to take paid leave, the ACA recommended. The employer will be responsible for paying the employee until such time as medical confirmation is obtained that the employee is unfit for work. Once an employee is certified as unfit, then the employee can be required to take a form of leave (whether paid or unpaid).
The ACA advised that, “if an employee does report to you that they have had, or believe they may have been exposed to the coronavirus, we strongly recommend that, before permitting the employee to return to work, you obtain a medical certificate from that employee certifying that they do not have the coronavirus and they are fit to return to work” although decisions in this area should be taken in the context of pleas from doctors groups to think carefully before taking this course of action.
Further information and resources
- Australian Government information for families and for early learning services here.
- The latest health statements on the coronavirus from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) here.
- The Fair Work Ombudsman has produced a webpage about the coronavirus and Australian workplace laws here.