National approach needed to help protect children from COVID when returning to early learning
21 October 2021 – Murdoch Children’s Research Institute analysis released today has outlined the case for broad mitigation measures needed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in early learning settings and schools as Australia enters the next phase of lifting restrictions and ‘living with COVID’.
Thrive by Five calls on the Federal Government to release comprehensive national guidelines and rules to help early childhood education and care centres better protect children under five, their parents, early educators, and the wider community from COVID infection.
There must also be greater support and resources for addressing the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable children under five who may otherwise never catch up in their early learning and social development, and risk long-term mental health issues.
Minderoo Foundation’s Thrive by Five CEO Jay Weatherill, stated “Australia needs its early learning centres and schools to reopen, but we can’t just swing open the gates and hope for the best. There must be a national plan and rules for safely reopening.
“Parents should have the peace of mind that arrangements at their child’s early learning centre are the same as at the centre across the road, and they’re all following the best available, current health advice.
“The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has today described the Victorian Government’s
‘three-V’s’ plan, ventilation, vaccination and vital COVID-safe steps, as essential to further minimise the risk of infection and help prevent further school closures.
“The researchers also highlight the importance of vaccination for early learning educators and school staff, parents and carers.
“The Federal Government and state governments should consider the analysis released today, the Victorian plan and other best available evidence from here and overseas to produce opening guidelines and rules that can be put in place by early childhood education and care settings as soon as possible to mitigate the risk of infection.
“Every early childhood education and care service needs to have clear, unambiguous rules on COVID, and these must be clear to all staff and families. It is not good enough to require services to interpret broader community guidelines.
“More importantly, they need access to funding to improve ventilation and air quality, undertake rapid antigen testing, and increase staffing to be COVID-safe and this needs to be provided urgently as NSW and VIC start to open up, to be followed by QLD and other states later.
“Every child should be as safe as possible when accessing essential early learning, regardless of their postcode. National guidelines and rules for early learning are urgent and important, addressing the impact of the pandemic on learning and development is vital.
“Children, particularly in NSW and Victoria, have missed out a vast range of opportunities from early learning, from development driven by play-based learning to social interaction and support from educators. If the government doesn’t give young children support now, they may never catch up,” Mr Weatherill said.