Vic Government announces new restrictions affecting ECEC effective 21 August

Vic Government announces new restrictions affecting ECEC effective 21 August

by Freya Lucas

August 23, 2021

The Victorian Government implemented new restrictions to early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings from 1pm on Saturday 21 August 2021 to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the State.

 

Communicated via an email from Kim Little, Deputy Secretary Early Childhood Education, a summary of the key changes follows. For further clarification, ECEC services are invited to visit COVIDSafe Settings

 

ECEC closed except for authorised workers, vulnerable children

 

The Victorian Government has advised that all ECEC services across Victoria will be closed except to children whose parents/carers are Authorised Workers and for vulnerable children. The has been most significant change for the sector, brought into play because of recent transmission rates amongst young people, and the recent addition of ECEC services as exposure sites.

 

Ms Little said “If your service contacts all families and no children are physically attending, then you need to advise Quality Assurance and Regulatory Division (QARD) that your service will be closed. It is expected that, despite this closure, services keep in regular contact with families and ensure there is a process in place for families to contact someone if they need access to the service for their child/ren, and that this is communicated to families.”

   

Authorised Workers

 

Based on advice from the Victorian Chief Health Officer, ECEC services in Victoria – including kindergarten, long day care and family day care – are now permitted to remain open for children in the following categories only:

 

A) A child in a two parent/carer family or a one parent/carer family may access ECEC (excluding OSHC) where one parent is an authorised worker (working on site or from home) and there is no appropriate alternative care available in the home. 

 

If there is another adult in the household, authorised workers can still access onsite childcare or kindergarten if the other adult is not able to supervise the child/ren (including due to work or personal circumstances such as illness or disability).

 

A parent or carer must demonstrate their eligibility by producing a valid Authorised Worker Permit, (further information below, including on permit exemptions). Previously issued Authorised Worker Permits will need to be reissued for authorised workers eligible to use ECEC, with the childcare/kindergarten section completed. 

 

B) Children experiencing vulnerability, including those:

 

  • in out-of-home care;
  • deemed vulnerable by a government agency, funded family or family violence service, and assessed as requiring education and care outside the family home; or,
  • identified by a childcare or early childhood service as vulnerable, including but not limited to referrals from a government agency, or funded family or family violence service, homeless or youth justice service or mental health or other health service.

 

Visit Authorised provider and authorised worker permit for more information.

 

Operational guidance

 

The Authorised Worker Permit has been updated. This form is to be issued to enable a person who works or lives in Victoria to attend an Authorised Work Premises or an eligible Authorised Worker who works from home or at their workplace to access childcare or kindergarten services.

 

This permit is required to be carried by authorised workers and authorised higher education students (including VET and university students) who are leaving the home for authorised work or study. The person may carry a print out or an electronic copy of this permit.

Victorians are required to carry permits from 11.59pm on Monday 23 August 2021 to access childcare or kindergarten services. As part of providing on-site education and care to children of Authorised Workers, ECEC services will be expected to sight Authorised Worker Permits from parents/carers from Tuesday 24 August 2021.

A permit is not required for accessing on-site education and care for children experiencing vulnerability (see below).

 

In some circumstances a parent/carer does not need an Authorised Worker Permit. This includes law enforcement, emergency services or health care workers who carry employer-issued photographic identification. For more information view the permit exemptions list.

 

If a family has existing arrangements where children attend more than one early childhood service, such as a kindergarten and a long day care service, this arrangement may continue for children of Authorised Workers and vulnerable children. Families should not enter into new childcare arrangements with more than one early childhood service under the current restrictions.

 

Template letters for families

 

The Department has prepared two template letters to help providers to communicate to families:

 

  1. template letter to communicate with families about the permit process
  2. template letter to provide to vulnerable families whose child may still attend the service.

 

Kindergarten funding

 

Services with funded kindergarten programs, including those receiving Free Kinder funding for unfunded three-year-olds, are required to remain open for on-site program delivery for eligible children. 

 

Funded kindergarten services are not permitted to close unless directed by the Victorian Department of Health or agreed with the Department of Education and Training. This includes any decision to consolidate program delivery with other nearby services, in order to avoid cohorts of children mixing together that normally wouldn’t do so.

 

Funded service providers should contact their local Departmental Regional Office if they are experiencing extenuating circumstances.

 

Inherent in the payment of Free Kinder funding, in addition to per capita funding and other Victorian Government supports such as School Readiness Funding and Early Childhood Teacher Supplement and to replace parent fees, is the obligation for service providers to maintain pay and conditions for the regular staff delivering the funded kindergarten program.  

 

Learning from home

 

There are many simple actions providers can take to provide continuity of learning for children not attending an on-site program, Ms Little said.

For children who are not attending, services should make reasonable efforts (in line with their particular circumstances) to support home learning. The type and frequency of contact with families will depend on each service’s individual circumstances and resources. It is understood that teachers and educators occupied with delivering the on-site program will have limited capacity to engage with other families.

The Department understands that funded kindergarten services may wish to hold a child free day to enable teachers and educators to develop a plan to support children to learn from home. If services elect to do this, they should consider the needs of those who will continue to access an on-site program and provide reasonable notice to families. Holding a child free day for planning purposes will not affect kindergarten funding and services do not need to inform their Early Childhood Implementation Branch of this closure.

 

Online resources to support learning from home provides advice and resources to support planning. A factsheet with advice to plan an approach to Learning from Home has also been prepared. 

“The most important thing services can do at this time is to stay connected with families,” Ms Little emphasised. 

“Find out what their plans are in the coming weeks, noting their circumstances may have changed. Agree on the best way to communicate together – this might be over the phone, via email or text, or through an app.”

 

The temporary ’Home Learning Support’ item has been reinstated in the School Readiness Funding (SRF) menu to enable services to access and employ a range of home learning supports. This allows a service to use up to $5,000 or up to 25 per cent of the total service-level SRF allocation (whichever is higher) to support children and families to learn from home.

 

“If you would like to use the new ‘Home Learning Support’ menu item, you do not need to update the SRF plan(s) for your services. Please maintain a service-level record of your SRF expenditure against this item, which will be required to be reported on as part of the End of Year Assessment process. Your Early Childhood Implementation Branch contact will be able to provide further support and advice,” Ms Little explained.

 

“We also encourage services to access the free professional learning masterclass series developed with Early Childhood Australia. The series aims to provide educators with practical strategies and a range of online tools to help them support learning from home.”

 

Vulnerable children

 

Services are required to make reasonable efforts to keep engaging with families and support learning from home for children not attending. Services are asked to be proactive in making regular contact with vulnerable families whose children are eligible to attend and encourage on-site attendance wherever possible.

“If you haven’t been able to make contact at all with a family or carer of a vulnerable child, consider reaching out to other support services (for example Child FIRST or family services) that may be involved with the family,” Ms Little said.

Outside School Hours Care (OSHC)

 

OSHC services in Victoria must operate in line with schools. OSHC must only remain open to provide education and care for: 

 

A) Children where both parents and or carers are considered authorised workers who cannot work from home, work for an authorised provider and where no other supervision arrangements can be made:

 

  • Where there are two parents/carers, both must be authorised workers, working outside the home in order for their children to be eligible for on-site provision.
  • For single parents/carers, the authorised worker must be working outside the home in order for their children to be eligible for on-site provision.

 

B) Children experiencing vulnerability, including:

 

  • children in out-of-home care;
  • children deemed vulnerable by a government agency, funded family or family violence service, and assessed as requiring education and care outside the family home; or, 
  • children identified by a school or OSHC service as vulnerable, (including via referral from a government agency, or funded family or family violence service, homeless or youth justice service or mental health or other health service). 

 

Where a parent/carer indicates that a child with a disability is vulnerable because they cannot learn from home, and/or informs the OSHC provider the child is vulnerable due to family stress, the OSHC provider is permitted to provide onsite supervision for that child, in line with schools.

 

Teacher and child ratio requirements

 

Only staff who are essential to the delivery of the service are permitted to be onsite. In line with the need to reduce the number of people moving around the community, services are required to ensure that staff who can work from home do so. Staff working from home should support children not physically attending the service to learn from home. They may also undertake program development work where it is not necessary to be on-site to do this.

 

It is a requirement of Victorian Government kindergarten funding that the kindergarten program is planned and delivered by a qualified teacher. There has been no change to this requirement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Services are reminded that early childhood teacher (ECT) ratio requirements under the National Quality Framework have not changed and. remain in place. For further information about ratios, including the ECT requirements which apply if a service is providing education and care to fewer than 25 children, please see view information about educator to child ratios.

If a service has low on-site attendance and is making reasonable effort to support children through learning from home, this will meet the requirements of providing a 15-hour program for funding purposes.

 

Cleaning funding

 

Term Three cleaning and hygiene grants are currently being processed and will be received by service providers this week.

 

In line with previous COVID-19 cleaning and hygiene grants:

 

  • service providers have flexibility on how to use this funding, so long as it is spent on meeting additional COVID-19-related cleaning and hygiene requirements during Term 3;
  • service providers with fewer than 50 enrolments will receive $900 while those with 50 or more enrolments will receive $1,500. 

 

Additional funding will also be available for services across Victoria that are required to close and undertake an infectious clean as a result of a confirmed case of COVID-19. For each room where kindergarten programs are delivered, $1,500 will be provided towards the cost of an infectious clean. This is on top of the cleaning and hygiene grants that will be provided to all funded kindergarten services.

 

The Department is aware of services that are directed to close and will directly contact these services once the deep clean has been completed and satisfies requirements of the Department of Health.

 

Further information

 

Email updates and the Department’s early childhood coronavirus (COVID-19) advice webpages remain the best source of early childhood specific information, while the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 phone advice line is available from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

 

Ms Little closed the email by acknowledging the ongoing commitment of the Victorian ECEC community to supporting children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic – in particular for their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

 

“I sincerely thank you for your hard work and professionalism during this time,” she said.

 

To sign up for Departmental updates, please see here

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