Childcare workers should be allowed to take antigen tests the night before work to ensure children are not turned away the following morning, Fine Gael’s Seanad Spokesperson on Children has said.
Senator Mary Seery Kearney said under current planned arrangements, antigen testing for childcare employees will be used at creches just before parents bring their children in for the day. Consequently, if a worker tests positive and has to go home, children will also be sent away from a childcare facility to ensure there is a safe staff/child ratio, leaving parents having to make alternative arrangements with no notice.
Senator Mary Seery Kearney said, “The use of antigen testing is going to be a game changer in the coming weeks and it is important that childcare providers benefit from it as part of the safe oversight of their facilities. However creative thinking is required to ensure this works for both parents and providers. It is not without its challenges.
“A childcare professional presenting at their workplace and taking an antigen test will be sent home if they test positive, and rightly so. Consequently, given the strict requirement to maintain child/staff ratios, this may mean children being turned away with scant notice for working parents.
“Consideration should be given to implementing a system of conducting antigen testing the night before, for all members in a pod, children and staff. Where staff test positive, it at least would allow any staff shortages to be identified well in advance of the morning opening up, giving as much clarity as possible to both parents and providers. This would also assist in childcare centres being allowed to stay open as much as possible.
“We have always valued the role played by childcare providers in the development and care of children. However, the pandemic has also shown just how central childcare is to our economy, in the support of parents enabling them to work, either in the workplace or remotely.
“Childcare providers are experts in infection control and have well established protocols developed over many years to manage childhood viruses and infections within the childcare environment. They should be commended for rising to the additional challenges presented by Covid-19 with enhanced protections including play pods, supported by the publications and tip sheets from First 5 and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
“We read today that some providers are implementing their own restrictions where families have been abroad, requiring them to stay away from the childcare centre for a further two weeks on their return. This may be understandable in a sector anxious to keep children, staff, parents and the community safe, particularly with the challenges presented by the Delta Variant. However it is a blunt instrument, and instead I believe a more equitable solution would be to apply an efficient antigen testing regime.
“There is already an existing shortage of childcare professionals, and the need for garda vetting means staff cannot be recruited on short notice, so careful planning is essential to allow providers to respond to what could be a crisis in childcare in the wake of the Delta Variant.
“I have written to Minister Roderic O’Gorman asking that a meeting of the consultative forum on childcare be convened as soon as possible to find an effective resolution,” Senator Seery Kearney concluded.