Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for early childhood services

The Victorian Government announced additional measures to help reduce people's chances of infection and slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in our community. This includes the shutdown of many non-essential services across Victoria. At present, it does not include the closures of early childhood education and care services.

Early childhood education and care services in Victoria may continue to operate at this time.

Any decision to close services as a preventative measure will be made on the recommendation of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. The latest advice is that pre-emptive closures of early childhood services are not proportionate or effective as a public health intervention to prevent community transmission at this time. This advice will continue to be reviewed daily.

If you believe a child or staff member at your service has a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) or is in close contact to someone who does, you should seek advice from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on 1300 651 160. 

You also need to lodge a notification with our Quality Assessment and Regulation Division (QARD) if:

  • any child or staff member is confirmed as a case of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • you decide to close your service.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice line

The Department has established a dedicated coronavirus (COVID-19) advice line for early childhood staff. This advice line is available during business hours.

You can call the advice line on 1800 338 663 with any questions or feedback related to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on services.

Updates

The Department sends regular updates to providers and services. You can subscribe to these updates.

Early childhood education and service operations

Closures

Early childhood education and care services are currently open. Decisions on early childhood service closures will be made on the recommendation of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

If your service is directed to close as a preventative measure, you'll be advised directly and given detailed advice and communication resources to support you through this process.

If individual services are closed they'll be listed at:  Emergency closures/remote learning and relocations.

A small number of services are closed on advice from DHHS.

If you believe a child or staff member at your service has a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) or is in close contact to someone who does, seek advice from the DHHS on 1300 651 160. You also need to lodge a notification with our Quality Assessment and Regulation Division (QARD) if any child or staff member is confirmed as a case of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Reporting closure

If your services closes, you're required to report closure to the Regulatory Authority.

Services under the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (National Law):

  • All services, including family day care, are required to ‘notify the Regulatory Authority within 24 hours of any incident that requires the approved provider to close or reduce the number of children attending the service for a period’.
  • You need to lodge a notification through the National Quality Agenda IT System (NQA ITS) within 24 hours of closure.

Services operating under the Children’s Services Act 1996 (Children’s Services Act):

Continuity of learning

The Learning from Home website includes advice for early childhood services on how they can ensure learning continuity for children during disruption caused by coronavirus (COVID-19).

Childcare subsidy if early learning services need to close

Childcare subsidy arrangements are a matter for the Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

View this FAQ and factsheet for more information.

Learning from home

If children need to be at home, we have provided information about resources for home learning on our Learning from Home webpage.

We encourage you to connect with families at home and support them to use these resources, wherever possible. 

Some services have also developed their own arrangements for keeping in touch with children and families who need to be at home.

Supporting parents and children

Services may want to direct parents to information about talking to their children about coronavirus (COVID-19). For example, from the Royal Children's Hospital:

Outside school hours care (OSHC) and Vacation Care

Outside school hours care (OSHC) programs are still able to operate and are encouraged to continue to liaise with schools to provide care for their school communities during school holidays, wherever possible.

OSHC and Vacation Care programs will not be able to operate from schools that have been directed by DHHS to close due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Programs cannot operate from these schools until advised otherwise.

If OSHC and Vacation Care service providers are advised they cannot operate from a school and would like to operate from another location, they'll need to:

  • lodge an application for service approval through the National Quality Agenda IT Service portal
  • contact the QARD advice line on 1300 307 415.

These applications will be considered as a priority.

OSHC providers can provide education and care on official pupil free days, where this is consistent with their service approval. If a variation to a service approval is needed, contact QARD, as above. As is appropriate, these arrangements are subject to change, in line with the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer.

Providing education and care to school-aged children

We understand some long day care services are offering education and care to school-aged children. While this is permitted under the National Quality Framework, services need to ensure the premises is adequate and suitable for school-aged children. This includes having access to adequate toilet facilities and age-appropriate equipment and resources. Services are also required to ensure appropriate supervision, protection from harm and hazards, and provide educational programs tailored to meet the needs of school-aged children. For further information, contact Quality Assessment and Regulation Division (QARD) on 1300 307 415.

Excursions

All excursions that were scheduled to occur from and including Tuesday 17 March should be postponed or rescheduled. If excursions cannot be rescheduled, they should be cancelled. This applies to all excursions to public venues outside the centre excluding bush kindergarten.

From Monday 16 March, early childhood centres and services should not visit residential aged care facilities until further notice. This will help minimise the spread of infection to vulnerable Australians.

Meeting educator to child ratios and qualification requirements

In the current circumstances, services should take all reasonable steps to meet the ratios and training and qualification requirements.

Services must ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of all children being educated and cared for by the service.

This includes:

  • providing adequate supervision
  • taking adequate precautions to protect all children from harm or hazards likely to cause injury
  • conducting a risk assessment to inform decision making
  • designing and delivering an educational program that meets the needs of each child and addresses current circumstances.

The role of an early childhood teacher may be filled by an educator actively working towards or holding a diploma level qualification, in extenuating circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Where services are unable to meet the requirements of the educator to child ratios (not the qualification requirements) they must notify the regulatory authority.

Mixed age educator to child ratios

In calculating educator to child ratios, services are reminded ratio requirements are determined by the age and number of children being educated and cared for by the service at any one time.

The educator to child ratio  calculator can help you calculate mixed age ratios.

Attendance

From 9pm AEDT 20 March 2020, only Australian citizens, residents and immediate family members can travel to Australia. All travellers to Australia are required to self-isolate for 14 days, either at home or in a hotel.

This includes children and staff who may be returning from overseas excursions or other travel. Any person who is self-isolating must not visit an early childhood service to pick up children or for any other reason.

Services should inform their staff, children and families of this advice through your service's communication channels with parents.

Mass gatherings

The Commonwealth Government announced that non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people are no longer permitted. Non-essential outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people are also prohibited.

This does not apply to early childhood education and care services, which are considered essential services.

Providing education and care to school-aged children

We understand some long day care services are offering education and care to school-aged children. While this is permitted under the National Quality Framework, services need to ensure the premises is adequate and suitable for school-aged children. This includes having access to adequate toilet facilities and age-appropriate equipment and resources. Services are also required to ensure appropriate supervision, protection from harm and hazards, and provide educational programs tailored to meet the needs of school-aged children. For further information, contact Quality Assessment and Regulation Division (QARD) on 1300 307 415.

Health and hygiene

If a child, student or staff member is or has had contact with a confirmed case

If you think a child, student or staff member is a confirmed case or has been in close contact with a confirmed case, contact DHHS on 1300 651 160 to discuss what to do next.

DHHS defines ‘close contact’ as someone who has either:

  • had at least 15 minutes of face-to-face contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • shared a closed space for more than two hours with someone who is a confirmed case.

Unless you have a child, student or staff member in one of the two above categories, you do not need to take further action.

You should continue to encourage good hygiene practices as this is the most effective way of minimising the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Reporting a confirmed case

If you believe a child or staff member at your service has a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) or is in close contact to someone who does, please seek advice from the DHHS on 1300 651 160.

You must report a confirmed case of coronavirus involving a child attending your service to the Victorian Regulatory Authority. This is required by the National Law and Regulations governing all early childhood education and care services.

For reporting requirements:

Social distancing in early childhood services

In early childhood education and care services, regulatory space requirements have not changed.

The National Cabinet has announced new social distancing measures. On the recommendation of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the National Cabinet determined that early childhood settings remain exempt from these requirements.

Consider additional measures at your service to minimise large gatherings, close contact with others and the practice of good hygiene. These might include:

  • staggering morning tea and lunch breaks where possible
  • postponing large gatherings or events, or re-arrange so smaller events are held
  • encourage good hygiene practices amongst children and staff, including washing hands
  • ensure good health and hygiene measures are employed across your centre or service, including ensuring soap is available
  • displaying the Reduce your risk posters around your service.

DHHS advice

DHHS has prepared advice on social distancing for early childhood settings. Some of the advice is reflective of many good practices you're already undertaking.

  • Implement the practice of all staff, children, parents and carers washing their hands upon arrival at your service and actively talk about why everyone needs to wash their hands and the importance of everyone doing this.
  • Consider the setup of your room and the placement of the activities. For table activities, set up activity only at each end of the table. Apply this consideration to eating areas, and where cots and high chairs are. If space is limited, consider staggering eating and sleeping times at intervals.
  • Wherever possible (weather dependent) and you have enough staffing for adequate supervision, consider operating an indoor/outdoor program for the full day/session, or spend more time outdoors.
  • Rather than having group times where everyone is sitting on the mat, consider using informal opportunities to engage with the children/read books/story telling with one or two children at a time throughout the day.
  • Cancel any excursions/incursions and reduce visitors to the absolute minimum.

Maintaining good health hygiene at early childhood education services

Remind your staff, families and children that everyone can protect against infections by practicing good hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene. Here are some tips that everyone at your service can follow:

  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing with a tissue, or cough into your elbow.
  • Dispose of the tissue into a bin and then wash your hands afterwards.
  • Wash your hands regularly, after using the toilet, and before eating.

Health promotion materials are available to distribute and promote to your staff, children and families, see:

You can also access the NHMRC childcare cleaning guidelines.

Unwell children and staff

Send unwell children or staff home in accordance with Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services.

Unwell children and staff should remain at home until symptoms resolve and seek medical assistance as required.

Food and supplies

The Victorian Government is working closely with retailers to help provide essential supplies such as food, nappies and sanitiser to early learning services.

If a lack of supplies is seriously impacting your service, please contact the new advice line on 1800 338 663.

Supporting each other

While continuing to educate and care for children, and be a source of support for their families, please continue to look out for one another and stay connected.

The following organisations have web pages with advice on looking after your mental health at this time:

Administration and funding

Commonwealth update

The Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment has provided updated advice regarding periods of local emergency and absences for childcare providers and services.

Information is available on the

Funded kindergarten providers

We'll continue to provide all existing streams of kindergarten funding. If services have to close due to coronavirus (COVID-19), service providers will still receive their regular kindergarten funding.

Under the agreement between the Department and kindergarten services, this funding can only be used for the purposes for which the funding is given – such as kindergarten program costs. Kindergarten program costs include staffing and other general operating expenses.

Reminder to complete annual confirmation

Service providers are asked to complete their Annual Confirmation and submit Early Start Kindergarten enrolments through the Kindergarten Information Management (KIM) system as soon as possible. 

Assessment and rating review processes and reports

The process for sending out reports to services and for services to lodge reviews will continue where possible.

No service will be disadvantaged in accessing their normal review processes.

Where possible, we'll continue to progress the completion of assessment and rating reports currently in progress.

If this is not possible, we'll extend all process timelines accordingly.

Assessment and rating visits

To ensure resources are best focussed on responding to and managing coronavirus (COVID-19), we're postponing all assessment and rating visits until further notice.