6 Oct 2021

Apprehension in early childhood sector over possible influx of children

6:51 am on 6 October 2021

Auckland early childhood centre owners are annoyed and anxious about the city's level 3 rule changes.

Nursery babies playing blocks toy with teacher in kindergarten

Children will be confined to bubbles of no more than 10. File photo Photo: 123RF

From today the city's early learning services can accept any children, not just those of essential workers and people with no other childcare options, so long as they are in bubbles of no more than 10 children.

Centre owners told RNZ the announcement of the change earlier this week created an unrealistic expectation that all children would be able to return to early learning and that would not be the case.

Linda Petrenko said her early childhood centre in Māngere had not been open under the previous level 3 rules and it would not open under the new rules.

"I don't believe it's actually safe for us to open at this stage," she said, citing the detection of cases of Covid-19 in the local community.

Petrenko said she was unsure what would happen to the centre's government funding because of the refusal to reopen and she was frustrated by a lack of information from the government.

"Until I have any information I can't take any more action," she said.

The Education Ministry did not provide details around the Auckland rule changes until late yesterday afternoon.

The chief executive of Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand, which represents a number of private and non-profit early learning services, Kathy Wolfe, said service staff and owners were anxious because details about the changes were not immediately available.

"A lot of us were a little upset that it was just like a blanket announcement 'all ECE services will be open' because that won't necessarily be the case. So that was a bit annoying and also creates a whole lot of anxiety among early learning services thinking that there's an expectation that they be open."

Wolfe said it was likely some services would not reopen today because they did not have enough staff and others might have to turn children away.

"It will be about demand. It will be about whether parents do all rush back and send their kids back to early learning services because they'll still be working from home so maybe they'll be looking for some reprieve.

"But it is going to mean that services are going to have to have some hard conversations with the communities and their whānau because they won't be able to take everybody back, they're going to have groups of 10."

the little boy twists the bolt into a wooden machine  on floor in room.

Photo: 123RF

Auckland Kindergarten Association chief executive Pauline Winter said its kindergartens and four early childhood centres were open under the previous level 3 rules and their staff knew how to operate safely with bubbles of 10 children.

She said the kindergartens were now closed for the holidays, and she was not expecting many more children at the four early childhood centres as a result of the rule change.

"It's fluctuated in the last few weeks so we can't see that it's going to be any different, we don't have any indication it's going to be any different," she said.

Rules stay same - ministry

The ministry's latest information for Auckand early learning services said there were no changes to the level 3 rules for managing bubbles of children.

It said bubbles were not allowed to mingle with other bubbles of children and teachers were allowed to work with one bubble only.

The advice said caregivers and staff should wear masks when dropping off and picking up children and teachers were encouraged to be tested for Covid-19 even if they did not have symptoms.

"Testing is not a requirement; however we strongly encourage teachers to be tested regularly at alert level 3 as tamariki in early learning services are currently unable to be vaccinated against Covid-19," it said.

"We encourage early learning staff to get two Covid-19 tests at least five days apart over the next fortnight. If they get a Covid-19 test and do not have any symptoms, they are not required to isolate while waiting for their test result."

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