What the Coronavirus Means for Child Care Professionals in 2021

Here's what you can do to protect yourself and the children in your care.
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January 8, 2021
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Note: This article was originally published in March 2020. It has been updated as of January 2021, to ensure that all the guidance below reflects what we currently know about the coronavirus, and the best practices to stay safe.

At this point, the coronavirus defines the daily ins and outs of your child care practice. Just like at the start of 2020, you’re dealing with many of the same key questions — Like what the pandemic means for you, and how you can protect yourself and the children in your care.

We’ve spent the past year writing, researching and talking about how the coronavirus affects child care. Down below you’ll find the highlights of that work, addressing the most critical issues within child care and the coronavirus.

In this article, you’ll find advice and guidance on:

  • The risk of COVID-19 to children and adults
  • Adjusting the physical environment of your child care setting
  • Helping children through a difficult time
  • What to do if you suspect a case of COVID-19 in your setting
  • Advice on using face masks in child care
  • How to communicate with and support your team and families

If you’re still looking for additional answers, you can take a look on our blog for more resources.

The risk of COVID-19 to children and adults

All available data suggests that children are less vulnerable to the virus than adults. They appear to contract the virus less easily, spread it less easily, and show milder symptoms when infected. But this does not mean they are immune, or incapable of spreading it to others. You still need to take all precautions possible.

Adults, especially those who are older or immunocompromised, must also take drastic safety precautions in our daily lives. Within child care, this is about protecting your staff, your children, your children’s families and yourself.

In October, I interviewed Dr. Walter Gilliam, the lead author of the world’s first major study of child care and the coronavirus. He and I explored the question of how the coronavirus affects children and adults differently, especially within the context of child care.

To check out some highlight clips, as well as the full video interview, just click right here.

Adjusting your environment

The pandemic has drastically altered how we run child care from day to day, and how our child care settings look. Here are some of the key changes, and what you need to know about them.

  • New cleaning routines. By now, the enhanced sanitisation schedules are muscle memory for those working in child care. We’ve put together a cleaning checklist, to help everyone stay organized and on top of these routines — you can download it right here.
  • Better indoor ventilation. Getting plenty of fresh air in indoor spaces is another important, effective way to reduce the risk of infection from this airborne virus. You can learn more about how to improve your setting’s ventilation right here.
  • Rearranging interior spaces. Child care settings have explored different ways to reshape our space, to help everyone stay socially distanced, and to divide groups into contained bubbles. Here’s how Danish child care providers did it, when they were some of the first in the world to reopen in the pandemic.

Helping children through it all

It’s nearly impossible for a three-year-old to be good at social distancing. But beyond safety precautions, this pandemic has a great impact on children’s wellbeing, and their understanding of the world. It’s a tough time for everyone, especially children.

Here’s how you can best help children to stay safe and well right now.

  • Social distancing in child care. Obviously this doesn’t work with children as well as adults. But we can still take some steps, both adult staff and children alike, to stay safe. Here’s how.
  • Watching out for children’s wellbeing. Whether children are staying at home or at your child care setting, we can take extra steps to help them through this tough time. Georgetown University’s Neal Horen offers some great ideas in this article.
  • Understanding what’s going on. It’s hard for children to adjust to everything that’s going on — and to tackle some tricky emotions. But sometimes, it helps to read a story about it.

Expert perspective: If you suspect COVID-19 at your child care setting

In the case that your team members or the children in your care become unwell, and you have reason to believe they have been exposed to COVID-19, stay calm. Take a deep breath.

The NHS recommends the following steps:

  • Call your local hospital or non-emergency number and explain your concerns.
  • Find a room where the individual can be alone behind a closed door, and open a window for ventilation if possible.
  • Advise them to avoid touching all surfaces, objects, and others, and to sneeze and cough safely. This room will need to be disinfected once they leave.
  • Wait for medical professionals to arrive to bring the patient to a hospital for treatment and testing.

Then, identify all staff, children and parents that may have had been exposed to the suspected case. Close contact is defined as being within 2 meters of the individual for more than five minutes, or by making physical contact. The NHS recommends that these exposed individuals enter two weeks of home isolation, to be certain they are not infected.

A note on face masks

Months of studies suggests that wearing face masks has a meaningful impact toward protecting others from the coronavirus. Wearing a standard disposable mask isn’t about protecting yourself, so much as protecting those around you from what you might be exhaling. It’s a group effort.

But what about children?

It’s understandable if the sight of children wearing face masks makes you a little uncomfortable — it’s not something we’re used to. But if the child is over two years old, wearing a mask doesn’t pose any physical or developmental harm.

To explore the developmental science behind it, you can read this interview with Duke University’s Dr. Mike Gaffrey, who explains why both staff and children in child care can wear masks to stay safe.

Communicating with your team and families

The way we work as a team, support our children and keep in touch with families is a lot different these days. Most of it happens digitally, and you’ve probably already found your new rhythm over the course of the year.

But in case you’re looking to refresh your strategy, or just looking for new inspiration, here are some of our best resources for making sure everyone is keeping safe, staying well and managing the stress.

  • Supporting your team through tough times – Sarah Mackenzie explores how her child care setting has worked to make daily tasks easier and more fulfilling for the team.
  • Being a better leader under lockdown – There are a lot of nuances and new considerations to running everything digitally. Dr. Reshan Richards offers insights on how we can be as considerate and supportive as possible now.
  • Keeping well and avoiding burnout – Especially now, we’ve got to find little bits of time to take care of ourselves. Here are some ideas on how to do it, and where to start.
  • Keeping your setting safe with software – Some providers have found that Famly’s management software especially helpful under the pandemic, as a way to keep everyone in the loop. Here’s how it works.
  • Making for an easier return to child care – If you’re dealing with closures and reopenings, here’s what you can do to make it easier on children and families as we all transition back to our settings.

The big ideas

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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