Baby and toddler groups - a guide to operating during the Covid-19 pandemic
Baby and toddler groups - or 'parent and child groups' as the government refers to them - are now allowed to operate both indoors and outdoors.
Here we answer some of your key questions about reopening.
You can read the guidance in full here: Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak
Government guidance overview
- How many people are allowed to attend baby and toddler groups?
There are currently no limit on the number of attendees.
- Do adults have to wear face coverings?
As part of the government 'Plan B' response to Covid-19, where a baby and toddler group is operating in community premises (such as community centres or places of worship), all participants – both those attending the group and those running the group – are exempt from any mandatory requirements to wear face coverings if they are either a) in a private activity room or classroom, or b) the premises has been hired out for the sole use of the provision. In all other circumstances, adults and children over the age of 11 comply with the legal requirements on the use of face coverings in these premises when they are in communal areas, unless the individual is exempt or has a reasonable excuse – see circumstances where people are not able to wear face coverings.
- Do we need to enforce social distancing?
There are currently no social distancing requirements.
- Are singing/music activities allowed?
The DfE advises that there will be no limits on the number of people who can sing indoors or outdoors. However, it adds that "Some activities, however, can increase the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19. This happens where people are doing activities which generate more droplets as they breathe heavily, such as singing, dancing, exercising or raising their voices. The risk is greatest where these factors overlap, for example in crowded indoor spaces where people are raising their voices. In situations where there is a higher risk of catching or passing on COVID-19, you should be particularly careful to follow the guidance on keeping yourself and others safe.
- Do we need to keep a record of those attending the group?
From Step 4 of lockdown easing, which took place on 19 July, although businesses will be encouraged to display QR codes for customers to check in using the NHS COVID-19 app, to support NHS Test and Trace, it will no longer be a legal requirement.
- How long do we need to keep attendance records for?
If you do opt to keep attendance records, government guidance states that to support NHS Test and Trace, you must hold any records that have been created for 21 days solely for the purpose of NHS Test and Trace (records which are made and kept for other business purposes do not need to be disposed of after 21 days but should still comply with GDPR regulations and not be kept for longer than necessary).
After 21 days, information collected for NHS Test and Trace must be securely disposed of or deleted in a way that does not risk unintended access (for example, paper documents should be shred and electronic files should be permanently deleted).
- Reducing transmission risk
Signing in and out: Many baby and toddler groups have traditionally encouraged parents and carers to sign in using a pen and signing-in sheet – however, in light of the pandemic, you should consider a different approach in order to minimise the risk of Covid transmission. This could involve a group leader signing everyone in themselves, or alternatively, exploring whether a digital method of signing in could be used.
If you are planning on using your signing-in sheet as your record of visitors for NHS Test and Trace, it is important that you ensure that all the necessary information is recorded (see ‘Do we need to keep a record of those attending the group?’ above).
Hand-washing: Government guidance recommends that baby and toddler group leaders should ensure that everyone maintains good hand hygiene. As such, where possible, it would be useful to provide hand sanitiser at entrance and exit points, and encourage parents and families to use it both as they arrive and as they leave.
Ventilation: Good ventilation is vital as it reduces the concentration of Covid-19 in the air, which reduces the risks from airborne transmission. As such, if your group operates indoors (once this is permitted under government guidelines), you should ensure that your space is well-ventilated with fresh air. Further government guidance on ventilation is available here.
Cleaning: Government guidance states that baby and toddler group leaders should any rooms used are cleaned after each use, and advice on cleaning is available here.
From a business or financial perspective, it is also important to consider the cost impact of additional time spent cleaning as it might, for example, affects your room hire charges if you need to be in the venue for longer than normal. If this is the case, you may want to look at whether you could reduce session times to allow for this or, if you charge for your sessions, adjusting your fees to account for this.
- Sharing information with families
In order to adhere to government guidance and general best practice of operating a baby and toddler group during the pandemic, you may have had to make changes to your normal routines, or to the layout of your group space.
To help ensure that families, and particularly children, are prepared for any changes, you should consider sharing information about any changes in advance. This could be through a variety of channels such as social media, emails/phone calls (if you have the relevant contact details), parish magazines, local noticeboards/Post Office windows, signage at your venue or communicating this information with families when they book.
Making sure that families know what steps you have taken to minimise risks and protect their safety will help both reduce anxiety and also ensure that they know what to expect upon arrival, especially if you have had to make any significant changes.
If there are any specific requirements that you need to enforce to ensure you are adhering to government guidelines – such as the need for all adults to wear masks where social distancing isn’t possible – it is again important that this is shared in advance.
- Limiting numbers and using bookings
Althought there is no longer a legal limit to the number of people who can attend a baby and toddler group, you may still choose to keep a limit on numbers.
If so, if your group normally operates a ‘drop-in’ system, you may need to consider if this is a suitable approach in light of the current restrictions, as it could lead to queues at the door (which could impact on social distancing) and parents and children feeling upset or angry if they are unable to come in.
A pre-booking system could help to mitigate these risks, ensuring that you are able to adhere to legal limits on attendee numbers, and also reduce the risk of families being left disappointed at the last minute. This could be via, for example, booking apps or social media ‘events’, though you would need to consider how to ensure that whatever channel you choose is as widely accessible as all. You may also want to consider how to prevent people from block-booking, to ensure all parents have an equal chance to book a space, and whether or not you can implement a waiting list for families in case of any cancellations.
Another important consideration is how to prevent people from booking but not turning up, particularly if your group does not charge attendees.
Welcome Back Family Services pack
This set of three online resource packs have been developed to support children’s centres, baby and toddler groups, creches and other unregistered provision, as you consider the implications for welcoming children back to your services.
The emphasis throughout is to maintain the vital priority of keeping children at the centre of the process. Each pack has been designed to raise awareness of some of the challenges you may face, with a focus on:
- supporting mental health and wellbeing
- creating a safe and enabling environment
- meet the needs of every child from day one
You will be encouraged to reflect on the government’s guidance and consider the options for your provision.
The Family Services pack is FREE to Alliance Members or £15 to non-members and is available now from the