COVID: Concerns for safety of early years workers
Concerns have been raised about the safety of “early years” staff and pupils in Leeds, according to a report set to go before senior Leeds City Councillors.
The report stated that, from June to November last year, the majority of providers of care for very young children saw a reduction in demand, with many operating at less than a third full, while getting minimal financial support from central Government.
Now council officers claim the decision from Government to fully open early years settings at the beginning of this year has led to concerns from providers about their own vulnerability to Covid-19. Some have suggested childminders and nursery/playgroup workers should be prioritised when it comes to vaccinations.
The issue will be discussed by Leeds City Council’s decision-making Executive Board this week, with councillors urged to lobby for adequate help and funding for early years workers.
A report stated: “Anecdotally, providers reported that take-up of places in the June – September period were significantly down on usual, with many open settings reporting around 30 percent occupancy.
“Throughout this time, providers – both nationally and locally – continued to report that they feel they are the ‘forgotten sector’, being unable to access some of the funding support offered to schools and other learning settings, and receiving guidance documents from the DfE at the last minute prior to reopening.”
It suggested Government messaging and support since the beginning of last month has not helped providers, adding: “When national restrictions were confirmed on 4 January 2021 with schools closing to the majority of pupils, early years and childcare settings were advised they were able to stay open.
“The decision to fully open early years settings, while schools are only open to the children of critical workers and vulnerable children, has raised concerns for many early years’ providers about the safety of their staff and children.
“Many have suggested that early years’ staff should be prioritised along with school staff for vaccinations and also have access to rapid testing. At present, early years’ staff are not included in the plans for asymptomatic testing, although school based early years staff would be included in the school testing plans.
“Although childcare is deemed to be a critical/key worker role, a number of settings are currently facing staffing challenges as some staff members have been unable to secure key worker places in school for their own children, meaning they are unable to attend work.”
The report concludes that the issue is likely to have “ongoing and long term impacts” on the early years sector, and that the council should lobby for adequate funding and for staff to be included within “priority groups” for vaccinations.
Members of Leeds City Council’s Executive Board will meet to discuss the report on Wednesday February 10.
Words: Richard Beecham, Local Democracy Reporter
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