Afterschool care and holiday programmes will be able to resume immediately under all traffic light levels, the Ministry of Social Development says.
But it’s still unclear what restrictions providers must follow to prevent the spread of Covid – given most of the children in their care will be unvaccinated.
Such programmes have had to stay closed in level 3 areas like Auckland, leaving many parents struggling for months to balance work and childcare.
That changes on Friday when New Zealand moves to the new traffic light Covid-19 protection framework, allowing businesses to open up with restrictions.
News of the reopening came as a huge relief to one Auckland mum who told the Herald she was on the verge of quitting her private sector nursing job if her afterschool and holiday programme couldn’t reopen.
Her children, 6 and 8, normally attended before and after-school care from 7am to 6pm on schooldays when she had a long shift, as well as holiday programmes during term breaks.
But none of those services have been running during lockdown. She had slashed her work hours, used up her annual leave and was now on to unpaid leave so she could drop off and pick up the kids from school.
At times the kids had sat in their dad’s ute at a building site for hours while both parents worked. Several other families at their school were in a similar position.
The woman asked not to be named for fear of repercussions from her employer.
Out of School Care and Recreation (Oscar) programmes come under the guidance of the Ministry of Social Development, which provides many of them with funding grants. However the ministry said it was the Government’s decision not to let such programmes reopen in level 3.
Primary and intermediate schools in level 3 reopened on November 17 but have had restrictions like staggering class times, keeping kids from mingling and masking for Years 4 and above to lower the risk of Covid spreading. Whether afterschool care and holiday programmes must apply similar restrictions under the traffic light system is still not known.
MSD’s general manager for services and contracts Kelvin Moffat said social services – including Oscar programmes – could operate in all traffic light settings with appropriate public health measures in place.
“Guidance for social service providers is currently being worked on and will be provided in the coming days,” Moffat said in a statement.
He acknowledged there had been uncertainty for whānau and families who attend those programmes, as well as for Oscar providers.
“We want to assure people we’re working as quickly as possible on guidance for the sector,” Moffat said.
“We have been working closely with Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education clarifying the details of the public health controls for each traffic light setting, so we could be in a position to share these with Oscar providers.”
They had been pleased to hear the sector was committed to children’s health and safety and was already adapting programmes to suit.
Moffat said the Ministry was taking a flexible approach to Oscar funding grants and was not seeking refunds from providers where their capacity had been impacted by Covid-19. There were also Covid support payments for employers, if needed.
Sharleen McKinnon, chief executive of sKids (Safe Kids in Daily Supervision) said the announcement was “a step in the right direction” – but it was critical they get the extra information on public health measures this week, as promised.
“Our number one goal is to ensure the safety of children and staff on site and we will adapt our operations as required, but we need the time to plan and execute according to the pending update.”
McKinnon noted school holidays were only a few weeks away and parents were seeking confirmation holiday programmes would be running.
“We want to be in a position to provide this confirmation in a clear, consistent and timely matter to our staff, parents and caregivers.”
John Kennedy, manager of the Out of School Care Network which represents about 200 providers, told the Herald on Tuesday that in lieu of advice from the Ministry, many were “getting on with it” and planning for reopening.
But some scenarios were complex – such as afterschool care at schools that were keeping groups of children separate. In those cases most providers were following instructions from the school.