Following our text earlier today, I am writing to you with updated information and guidance about the unprecedented COVID 19 situation and the implications for you as a member and our sector.
The Taoiseach’s announcement this morning reflects the gravity of the situation, confirming that all childcare services will close from 6pm today. The impact of this announcement is far reaching given that just over 200,000 babies and children attend crèches, pre-schools or after-school care every day in Ireland. As well as these children and their families, 30,000 staff work in our sector, alongside some four and half thousand owners/managers. Therefore, there is an immediate potential impact on almost one quarter of a million people, not to mention the reach into the wider community.
In preparing to close, you will want to issue a letter to parents. We have a template prepared and it is available here. The letter should set out your own arrangements and confirm that the date for reopening at the moment is 30 March.
Early Childhood Ireland has been actively liaising with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) since the onset of the current, unprecedented circumstances. We have also been appointed to the national stakeholder group on Covid-19 which was recently established by the Department of the Taoiseach and we are bringing the issues of our members to the attention of Government at these meetings. The most pressing need is to provide sector-specific and timely updates to members, especially around the continuation of critical public funding. Thus far, this has been the case, with a substantial update from the DCYA which you will have received 10th March 2020. We are meeting the DCYA and the national stakeholder group again this afternoon to consider further implications of the closure notice. We understand the DCYA will send another mail to all services later this afternoon.
To assist you with staffing and other issues please contact the Early Years Employers Service (EYES) team on 01-4057103 who are on hand to answer any specific queries that you may have. You may also use this contact form.
Funding and Fees and Closures due to COVID-19 (coronavirus)
The DCYA letter of March 10 sets out the arrangements for continuity of funding under Government programmes. There will be no requirement to apply for force majeure. Payment will continue automatically. This is welcome.
We know, however, that government schemes are only a percentage of income for our members and that the remainder is derived from parental fees. Payment of fees outside of these government programmes should be governed by your Fees Policy/contract with parents, although we know that the current situation is unprecedented. We advise members who have clauses covering unforeseen closures in their Fees Policies or Parent Contracts to enforce these clauses. For other cases, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. It will be necessary to use your discretion when levying fees, or to engage with parents to come up with a solution while your service is closed.
Members who are facing issues of viability following the non-payment of parent fees should note that the Government has announced that there will be a number of supports which will be available. These supports will include:
• A €200m Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) Working Capital scheme for eligible businesses impacted by COVID-19 (coronavirus). Loans of up to €1.5m will be available at reduced rates, with up to the first €500,000 unsecured. Applications can be made through the SBCI website.
• A €200m Package for Enterprise Supports including a Rescue and Restructuring Scheme available through Enterprise Ireland for vulnerable but viable firms that need to restructure or transform their business. We are investigating the suitability of this voucher scheme for some of our members.
• The maximum loan available from MicroFinance Ireland will be increased from €25,000 to €50,000 as an immediate measure to specifically deal with exceptional circumstances that micro-enterprises – (sole traders and firms with up to 9 employees) – are facing. Applications can be made through the MFI website.
• The Credit Guarantee Scheme will be available to COVID-19 (coronavirus) impacted firms through AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB. Loans of up to €1m will be available at terms of up to 7 years.
For community or private members experiencing serious difficulty, Pobal also operate a case management system which can be accessed by contacting Pobal at 01 5117000 or email@example.com.
Lay-offs, short time and COVID-19 (coronavirus)
Due to the effects of COVID-19 (coronavirus), members may receive less income than normal. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection have outlined the procedure for employees should they be laid off due to the effects of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Please note, the lay-off provision should be included in employee terms of employment contained in their employment contract or staff handbook or else should be agreed in consultation with employees if it is not in the employment terms.
Should you be forced to lay-off employees, or put them on short time, you should apply a fair and reasonable criteria to decide who will be laid off or working on short time. Under employment equality legislation, your selection must not discriminate against employees on any of the following 9 grounds: gender, civil status, family status, age, disability, religious belief, race, sexual orientation or membership of the Traveller community.
Employees who are laid off temporarily, without pay, due to a reduction in business activity due to the closure of Early Years or School Aged Services, can apply for a Jobseeker’s Payment. This application can be made online at www.mywelfare.ie or in person at an Intreo Centre. Employees who are moved onto temporary short-time working due to a reduction in the number of children, or a decline in business at your service, which is related to COVID-19 (coronavirus) may apply for a Short Time Work Support payment. This application can be made in person at an Intreo Centre.
The DEASP have also outlined a number of other supports for Employees and Employers, which you can read about here.
Over the coming weeks and months you will experience a range of unplanned circumstances relating to your services. It is important that as the setting leader, that you give yourself time to make considered judgement calls and key decisions that will impact on you, your staff, the children in your care and their families. As a sector we know that we have knowledge, expertise and resilience and we are very well placed to get through this crisis. We know how to keep things calm with children whom we know are so attuned to the environment around them.
Finally, at Early Childhood Ireland we know this is a worrying time and the situation is constantly evolving. We advise all our members to continue following the advice from the HSE and the HPSC. We are monitoring the situation, and will continue to update our members with all of the latest developments that may impact them. If you are unsure about anything in this email, please contact our Early Years Employer Service at 01 4057103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep safe and well in these very challenging times.
Chief Executive Officer
Early Childhood Ireland