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Nurseries are on the frontline in the coronavirus pandemic, providing childcare to the country’s key workers. What are some of the challenges they are facing?
Nurseries and other childcare provision closed for most parents a few weeks ago, but are still open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children. Yet many parents are still having to pay to retain their places, given nurseries themselves are under a lot of financial pressure to survive the pandemic. We asked Abacus Ark, which operates nurseries around London, about the childcare implications of the current pandemic.
workingdads.co.uk: Are nurseries talking to each other/working together?
AA: We initially attempted to get our local authorities to facilitate these discussions, but were told that this was not something that was within their remit. Subsequently, we have tried to engage other nurseries as much as possible to understand how they are dealing with the uncertainty. However, in our experience nurseries, specifically in London, rarely engage within each other.
workingdads.co.uk: Do parents have to keep paying fees if a nursery is shut?
AA: There is no official requirement for parents to pay fees when the nursery is shut. There will be a request from the nursery to do so if they require payment in order to ensure they are able to reopen down the line. If a nursery is subject to rent – in London this will typically account for 20% – 25% of the total cost base – and if the nursery is unable to negotiate with their landlord it is highly likely that they will need to request a certain percentage of the fees is still paid. If parents do want a nursery to come back to then it is highly advisable that they do what they can to support the nursery. It is highly unlikely that any nursery will be requesting payment in order to maintain a profit.
workingdads.co.uk: If a nursery is open, but a self-employed parent can’t earn will they have to continue to pay fees or is there a mechanism for not paying fees for a certain period?
AA: This is completely dependent on the nursery. We have had some difficult discussions with parents who have found themselves in need of reciprocal support. Our view has been that we are all in this together and we need to do what we can to get through this together.
workingdads.co.uk: Are nursery staff getting paid if their nursery is shut?
AA: With the recent Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, nursery staff will be put on furlough, ensuring that all but the most senior people will receive 80% pay. We gave our staff the option of providing care for key workers or being furloughed.
workingdads.co.uk: Are nursery staff able to effectively become childminders and provide one-to-one childcare?
AA: This was the first thing that came to mind when a risk of closure was looking likely. However, Ofsted says that this is not allowed as we are only registered to provide childcare on non-domestic property. Since then, the closure of childcare for all but key workers has extended to childminders. In short, no, this is not allowed.
workingdads.co.uk: Abacus Ark provide a holistic programme for children, nurturing the whole child. Have you got any thoughts on how this period of confinement will impact children’s development?
AA: Depending on how parents accommodate development at home, areas such as mathematics, literacy etc may not be impacted. However, their Personal, Social and Emotional Development is likely to be impacted. We are more concerned with mental wellbeing of those children who are used to seeing friends everyday but don’t necessarily know why they can’t at the moment.
workingdads.co.uk: Do you have any general tips for parents facing weeks/months of looking after small children indoors?
AA: Routine, routine, routine. It will make everyone’s life so much easier if you’re able to stick to a routine. To help families, we have created a Learning from Home Pack with a suggested daily plan and we are providing parents with an option to join live sessions with the children’s class to give them some sense of normality.
To those parents who don’t attend our nursery, build a plan. We suggest setting some measurable goals to achieve and creating a plan that works towards achieving the goals. A great tool to use is the Early Years Foundation Stage framework.