Proposed Child Care Solution for Healthcare Workers Amid Covid-19 Crisis
'Pandemic' is not a word that the World Health Organisation (WHO) throws around lightly.
The world is in crisis.
Supermarket shelves are empty, public libraries and museums are closing their doors indefinitely and medical professionals are calling desperately for society to 'flatten the curve' in order to give Australians the best chance at avoiding crisis levels of serious cases of coronavirus infection that our healthcare system simply cannot handle.
But how can we expect medical professionals to provide around-the-clock care to society's sickest and most vulnerable, when the entire country is in a state of emergency, and weeks - if not days - away from a potential nation-wide lock-down?
How can we support healthcare workers in the vital role that they will play in protecting and caring for our society during this worldwide pandemic?
At the best of times, schools, kindergartens and child care centres are a relative petri dish of common viruses and minor medical complaints.
Most early learning services are lucky to go a month at a time without a bout of gastroenteritis surging through their rooms, and families of school age children will be all too familiar with the frequent notification of head lice cases at their child's school.
Cuts, coughs, snot, sneezes, games of pat-a-cake or stacks-on, cuddles and sloppy kisses; childhood is simultaneously a time of preciously uninhibited discovery and a cesspit of germs, ripe for the taking.
Child-directed hygiene initiatives such as 'Cover your cough!', 'Hands to yourself!' and washing your hands to the tune of 'Happy Birthday' do little to curb the spread of these common complaints amongst children; and, importantly, these measures would be painfully ineffective in stopping the rapid spread of Covid-19 through Australian education and care facilities.
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The world's governments are taking extreme and necessary measures in an attempt to curb the virus' spread.
China has enforced a complete lock-down of geographical areas which have been most greatly affected by the virus; with Italy soon following suit, before joining France and Spain in announcing a total, nation-wide lock-down.
In the words of Victorian Premier Dan Andrews, the question of Australian schools facing periods of closure during the Covid-19 pandemic is not a matter of if, but rather, a matter of when.
Inevitably, I believe, the time will soon come when families will be forced to make decisions regarding who will care for their children during enforced periods of school, kindergarten and child care closure.
Australia's dedicated healthcare workers have a momentous role to play in seeing Australians through the Covid-19 pandemic.
They may be wearing gowns, gloves and masks in place of a cape and spandex tights, but make no mistake: these are the superheroes that society will be turning to in our time of greatest need.
However, first and foremost, these highly-trained and skilled professionals are also people; and aside from being over-worked, at high risk for professional burnout and putting themselves at risk day-in, day-out, to care for society's most vulnerable, they have families and responsibilities outside of their patients; the most pressing during this time of crisis for some, being their responsibility as parents.
Some of these hard-working professionals may be fortunate in that they have willing and able family members to stay at home and care for their children during periods of school closure, allowing those working in the healthcare sector to continue in their ever-important day-to-day work.
Others will not be as fortunate, and with 'working from home' less of an option for say, a ward nurse, lab technician or pharmacist, for example, a number of Australia's healthcare professionals won't be equipped to continue to work with the added and sudden responsibility of having children to care for at home on a full-time basis; placing additional strain on the national healthcare system that is already expected to be stretched to breaking point.
The Australian Child Care system has a strong Priority of Access policy, which applies to both early years and outside of school education and care. Access to care is granted firstly to any child identified as being at risk of abuse or neglect.
Priority is then given to any child whose parent/s meet given work or study requirements.
I propose the introduction of temporary measures allowing those employed in the healthcare sector and related fields guaranteed child care positions for their children, and that these positions be available through willing Family Day Care (FDC) providers, who otherwise may well experience enforced service closure along with child care centres, schools and kindergartens.
FDC is a unique care model in which both preschool and school age children can be cared for by a single educator, forgoing the need for multiple drop-offs or sibling separation.
FDC is also not limited to children attending the home of the educator, with provisions available for providing in-home care for eligible families.
This provision has previously only been available to families who meet priority of access and other specific requirements under state regulation.
However, if this provision was to be extended for the duration of mandatory school closures, it would allow qualified teachers and early childhood educators to register as FDC educators and care for children in the child's own home.
As a government approved and subsidised child care service, families would have continued access to their current level of Child Care Subsidy (CCS), and, most importantly, the ability to continue their essential work in the healthcare sector with the peace of mind that their children are being cared for by skilled education and care professionals.
Educators who run FDC services from their own home must adhere to the same highly-regulated conditions as kindergartens and child care centres throughout Australia, and hold relevant early childhood or teaching qualifications.
The low ratio of children in attendance at the home of any FDC educator willing to participate in these temporary measures (up to four preschool age children, and an additional three of school age), minimises the risk of infection and creates small 'pockets' of consistent care throughout the community, rather than relying on large child care centres, which can see over one hundred children and their families enter its doors each day.
With hundreds of fully qualified, insured and experienced FDC educators already registered throughout Australia, and many more qualified teachers and child care centre employees soon to have their careers put temporarily on hold, those that would be willing to provide high-quality education and care services to healthcare workers and their families during this time of international crisis may mean the difference between Australia's ability to #flattenthecurve of the Covid-19 outbreak, or watching on as our healthcare system, being run on skeleton staff, buckles under the pressure of mass infection.
I believe that we have the capacity to support these vitally important and hard-working healthcare professionals as they support us, as a society, through this pandemic; we need to act now.