The Democratic Alliance (DA) is calling on the Department of Social Development (DSD) to reopen Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres under the risk-adjusted level 3 lockdown, if these centres can fulfill and abide by a minimum list of Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
We suggest the following base protocols for ECD centres to abide by in order to open their doors:
- Work desks are distanced according to the 1m guideline;
- Mandatory cloth masks or face shields for ECD practitioners;
- Children: infants not to wear masks. Toddlers over 2 years to wear masks or Perspex full-face shields;
- ECD centres to be professionally sanitized before receiving any children;
- Surfaces and equipment to be sanitized regularly;
- Dedicated area to wash hands;
- Limit of children per class depend on floor area per square meter of the centre;
- Hands sanitized and temperature monitored when entering school premises and classrooms;
- Children to be dropped at the entrance where ECD practitioners will collect them, and collection will take place at the entrance;
- The temperature of the child must be taken in the presence of the parent or guardian on arrival. Should the child present with high temperature, child cannot be allowed entry and it is the parent/guardian’s responsibility to find alternative care;
- On arrival, all staff and children must be screened daily; and
- Centres should make provision for a sick bay or a designated area away from the other children until collected by responsible adult.
A full breakdown of protocols can be accessed here.
These protocols are to be read in concurrence with provisions in the Disaster Management Act, Covid-19 Occupational Health and Safety Measures, and ECD Standard Operating Procedure as outlined by DSD.
The DA is of the believe that with the move of the lockdown to level 3, the gradual reopening of the economy, and parents returning to their places of work, ECD centres will became increasingly essential.
For many young children, ECD centres are their only safe havens when their parents return to work. Without these centres some parents might find it difficult to find safe and suitable supervision for their young children, especially when schools reopen for older siblings.
In addition to this, many vulnerable children receive the majority of their nutrition from their ECD centre. While the Western Cape Government has issued a provincial directive to ensure that meals were still provided to vulnerable children while adhering to lockdown regulations, there are many more children country wide who do not have sufficient food during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The sector is also currently under immense pressure due to the ongoing lockdown. 80% of ECD centres face the risk of immanent closure if the sector is not reopened soon. The majority of ECD centre employees and owners are women, many of whom are the sole breadwinners of their families and are struggling desperately to make their own ends meet, as parents are finding it difficult to pay fees that the ECD centres rely on stay afloat and pay their staff. They have been left out in the cold with no intervention to get back on their feet.
The only way to keep the ECD sector afloat and to ensure that children have continued access to fundamental formative development – is to reopen the sector.
However, similar to the reopening of schools, careful preparation on the part of the DSD and the ECD sector is required to determine the state of readiness to reopen ECD centres. The reopening of the sector cannot come at the expense of human life and the safety and well-being of our children which will remain the top priority. Children, staff and practitioners with health concerns should remain at home and interactive programmes should be made available online where possible. The continued learning and development of the child is the primary responsibility of the parent or caregiver.
The final decision to send a child to an ECD centre will ultimately remain with parents or the court appointed guardian or caregiver.
The reopening of the sector is not without its complexities. The DA therefore calls consultations between the Department, the ECD sector, parents and communities in order to ensure that all the relevant stakeholders are heard.