Resources for vacation care services responding to COVID-19

Resources to assist vacation care services in planning and providing their programs to meet the requirements of health advice for COVID-19.   

Acecqa – The Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority

Many vacation care services will play a vital role in meeting the needs of their local and school communities in the weeks and months ahead.

For those services that can stay open, ongoing Health Authority advice is requiring you to adapt your service provision in new ways as our community responds to COVID-19. These resources are to assist you in planning and providing your programs to meet these requirements.

This is not a checklist of what you must do – it’s a guide with examples of approaches and experiences you could provide for children as alternatives to what they would usually experience at your service.

The issues covered include:

Australian Government webpages are providing COVID-19 information updates:

  • The Australian Government Department of Health has created a webpage sharing information on management of the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia as a health emergency. This page will be updated every day with the current situation, latest case numbers and related information.
  • The Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment has created a webpage sharing advice to help students, parents and education providers manage the risk of COVID-19.

You can also download the Australian Government Coronavirus (COVID-19) app and WhatsApp Channel.

Educators that are working during this period are vitally important and have a complex role in supporting children, families and each other while also caring for themselves. It is important for teams to reflect on and review current procedures and practices to minimise the spread of COVID-19 as they continue to provide quality outcomes for children.

Physical distancing requirements

Current guidelines on physical distancing can be found on the Department of Health website.

When considering your service, educators and children, it is important to reflect on how the current practices support physical distancing and hygiene requirements.

Your team could reflect on:

What procedures are in place to support physical distancing requirements and hygiene practices when children are eating at meal times?

  • You may consider altering the routine to provide progressive meal times, or alternatively to ensure that children are seated at the same time, at a safe distance apart, to support supervision requirements. Children could be given the opportunity to set up eating spaces that allow physical distancing at meal times.
  • Children can be involved in intentional discussions around the importance of not sharing food and following hygiene practices.
  • Procedures to ensure the thorough cleaning of surfaces before and after meal times will complement hygiene practices.
  • Consider options which do not require the children to wait by forming queues/standing in line.

How can you adjust the spaces to support an increase in access to the outdoor environment?

  • This may include communicating with the Principal of the school (if your service is located on school grounds) or local council (if using a community facility) to assess if there is access to additional, or more appropriate spaces, during the vacation care period.
  • You can also use the current layout and reflect on how to maximise access by keeping doors open or moving any existing partitions.

In what ways are children and families supported to implement hygiene practices that comply with recent advice from relevant authorities?

  • Reflecting on the current signage at the service might be a starting point so that any new signage can be viewed easily with minimal distractions.
  • Have signage that is inclusive may be another way you can support the access and participation of all children and families. This can be in the form of signage in community languages, and the use of visual signage. Children could be encouraged to make signs to display for their peers.
  • Children can be supported to participate in thorough hygiene practices by increased supervision so educators can guide children.
  • As a team, you can reflect on the regular practices of families at arrival and departure times, and what processes are in place when families access the service. This can assist in minimising contact with other families and children at the service.

What is your service’s approach to preparing and providing food?

  • You may need to review your current access to food supplies and suppliers to ensure you are able to continue providing food for children.
  • When preparing food, check that your staff have relevant and appropriate training to support safe hygiene practices.
  • You may want to provide ample preparation time to allow for more thorough hygiene practices.
  • You may want to reflect on the current practices in food preparation, the provision of reusable utensils and how these are washed hygienically between uses.

How are group experiences provided, so children are still supported physically and do not feel isolated?

  • When programming experiences, you can reflect on the way the environment is set up to allow for physical interactions at a safe distance.
  • Ensuring there are appropriate numbers of experiences and these experiences support collaboration. This might include experiences such as arranging talent shows where children can participate, view and judge the performers.
  • Children are often comforted by familiar peers attending the same service and greet them by hugging or other gestures that involve physical contact. This can be an opportunity to reflect on other ways of greeting each other while meeting physical distancing requirements. Consideration can be given to the greetings used around the world such as bowing, elbow tapping and dancing.
  • Educators can facilitate discussions with children on how to implement physical distancing when with their others. Children may be provided with the child appropriate resources below to facilitate discussions.

Discussing COVID-19 with children

Many services are reflecting on their role in regards to providing information and support to school age children and families and whether discussing COVID-19 is suitable for them. It’s important to consider the abilities, interests and wellbeing of all children, and the views of families when reflecting on the provision of information for children. If services choose to open discussions to children, there are resources available to support these discussions in a way that children understand.

Considerations when choosing what to share with children can include:

  • Whether the resource has recent and relevant information. If it does not, consider how it can be adjusted or what parts may be useful.
  • Ensuring that educators have viewed the resource to assess its appropriateness for the children’s individual needs prior to sharing with children.
  • Children in school age care include a variety of ages and abilities so educators may reflect on suitability for various age groups.
  • Educators can reflect with children on how much information is suitable. Using children’s ability to emotionally regulate as a cue to know when to change the topic may be useful.
  • Considering the source of information and ensuring that any information used for children is from reputable and reliable outlets.

The links below may be a starting point for discussing COVID-19 with children, families and educators:

Risk assessment

Assessing the risks in all service environments will give you an opportunity to identify, manage and eliminate risks. A risk assessment process can be used to identify where changes need to occur and how the changes can be implemented. The following questions may guide practices and discussions:

  • Which routines and environments present risks to children, educators and families?
  • How can practices and environments be adjusted to manage or eliminate the risks identified?
  • How can our service environments be managed to ensure that an appropriate number of children are in each space and physical distancing is maintained?
  • Does our service’s current supervision practices allow for the consistent application of hygiene practices?
  • How are children supported to contribute to the risk management processes in place?
  • How can the guidelines provided be used to support risk management strategies?

The service approach to child-centred practices

While you and your team review the procedures that support physical distancing and hygiene requirements, ensuring children are provided with leisure based opportunities will assist in alleviating some anxiety for children and families. Reflecting on how the program is delivered, and the ways your educators empower children to make changes will ultimately create an environment where children feel safe and supported.

What are your considerations when replacing excursion and incursion experiences?

  • You may consider how some of the vacation care program can be replicated for in-centre days. This might include replacing a cinema excursion with the children making a movie at the service. This can be programmed over several days to involve children in writing a script, filming, editing and viewing the film together.
  • The children may enjoy sharing with their peers, being mindful or physical distancing, what they have been working on in the small groups. For example, a dance, their artwork or Lego creation.
  • Educators may consult children on the changes and encourage them to contribute to the program changes being implemented. Providing children with opportunities to voice their ideas can contribute to creating a sense of belonging at what can be a stressful time for children.

You may also wish to reflect on your practices at this time to ensure children have access to a leisure based program and experiences. Examples of questions that you can reflect on include:

  • How do the experiences planned continue to support play and leisure based learning in a fun environment?
  • How do we continue to provide a safe and secure environment for the children which contributes to their sense of wellbeing?
  • What can we do to create a positive atmosphere for the children attending?

Using routines to create a sense of safety for school age children

From the time families arrive at the service, you have the opportunity to create a sense of safety and belonging. Educators often look at experiences as the basis for keeping children engaged, however, the routines in place can also be used as a time to support children and create safety at uncertain times. Strategies that can be used to create security for school age children could include:

  • Involving children in utilising greetings which do not involve physical contact as outlined above.
  • Ensuring children are aware of the routine of the day, including the approximate times that experiences have been arranged for.
  • Arranging for consistent educators to be present on arrival and/or departure of all children to welcome and farewell them individually.
  • Setting up learning environments with consistency and input from the children.
  • Empowering children to have as many choices as possible. There are many things children cannot control at the moment so concentrating on what they can control might be helpful.
  • Using routine times to be with the children and build relationships.

Further information to inform your practices

To support children and families, Kids Helpline has a number of resources including a helpline for children aged 5-12 years old.

Head to the ACECQA website to Contact your Regulatory Authority.

Access Notifications and reporting information, in particular if the service needs to close.

The ACECQA website also includes information on COVID-19.

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has released a live webcast on Coping with COVID-19 in OSHC.