Worries about children's safety putting parents off sending children back to nursery and school

Catherine Gaunt
Friday, May 29, 2020

Concerns about their child’s health and safety mean that thousands of parents will not be sending their children back to nursery next week, despite Boris Johnson giving the go-ahead for early years settings and primary schools to open from Monday.

From Monday (1 June), children can return to early years settings and Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in primary school
From Monday (1 June), children can return to early years settings and Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in primary school

Ahead of Monday’s reopening, separate surveys by PACEY and parenting and education charity Parentkind  reveal parents' concerns about the health, safety and well-being of children as they return to school and early years settings.

Research from the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) suggests that parents will not be rushing to send their children back to settings or school.

The survey of 1,000 parents found that nearly half of parents of young children who responded will be keeping their child at home next week.

The reasons given for not sending children back to their setting were largely due to health and financial worries.

When parents were asked how they would manage childcare, 85 per cent said they would continue to look after them at home themselves.

However, one in ten said they would be asking grandparents or family members for childcare help, which could break the lockdown rules.

From Monday, groups of up to six people from different households will now be able to meet outdoors, or in a garden, while continuing to practise social distancing with those who do not live in the same household.

Of the 1,000 parents of one- to six-year-olds surveyed, 48 per cent said they are either not planning on sending their child back to a childcare setting or haven’t yet decided, meaning thousands of childcare providers could potentially open to significantly fewer numbers of children.

Parents based their decision primarily on health and financial worries:

  • 60 per cent said they were concerned about their child’s health
  • 70 per cent cited concerns that social distancing measures cannot be enforced with children. 
  • 20 per cent of parents said they need evidence that infection rates have been reduced in the local area or are zero before they send back their children to childcare.

For 17 per cent of parents, living with a vulnerable person is the reason they are choosing to keep their child at home.

Liz Bayram, PACEY chief executive, said, ‘More needs to be done to reassure parents that childcare providers are doing their utmost to ensure their setting are ready to welcome children back and to help parents navigate fact from fiction on what a low-risk education environment should look like for their child.

‘The fact that many parents are so worried that they would rather rely on family members than a registered childcare provider, who has put the necessary policies and procedures in place, show how much more the Government and the sector itself has to do to reassure families.’

When asked what childcare providers could do to reassure them it is safe for their child to return, the top five reassurances parents said they wanted are:

  1. Social distancing measures observed at drop off and pick up and within the setting
  2. Regular hand washing 
  3. Clearly documented hygiene processes in settings
  4. Small groups of children, with children being kept in the same ‘bubbles’
  5. Daily temperature checking of staff and children

Ms Bayram added, ‘It is clear that while early years and childcare providers have a key role to play in building trust, there are also so many other factors influencing parents. Providers have been through the mill over the last few months, being forced to close, and now preparing to reopen most likely to reduced numbers of children. 

'Childcare and early years provision is part of our critical public sector infrastructure. Both maintained and PVI providers will need focussed Government support to remain part of the UK’s critical infrastructure and to ensure all our children, including the most disadvantaged, are supported to catch up with their education over the coming year.’

In the Number 10 briefing on Thursday, the prime minister confirmed that early years children and those in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 could return to school from 1 June, after he said that he was satisfied that the Government’s five tests for moving on to phase two of easing the lockdown had been met.

However, some local authorities are not reopening nurseries and schools on Monday.

Sheffield Council today said it would not opening settings to more children because of the high infection rate in the local area.

Lancashire County Council is also advising against reopening.

The council said their public health advice suggested it was not safe to reopen schools until at least 14 days after the Government’s test and trace scheme was up and running, and has advised delaying reopening until 15 June.

Commenting on this, Ms Bayram added, 'Parents with jobs are planning their return to workplaces on Monday using childcare services that they’ve have been working with so their children have a calm and settled transition after weeks of being at home. These last minute changes at a local level are placing children, parents and providers under significant stress. 

'We urgently need DfE to work with local authorities to better plan and co-ordinate what we know maybe necessary local lockdowns in the future. These confused mixed message just won’t work and risk public confidence. Today some local authorities are asking their schools to stay closed but giving no advice to early education and childcare settings; some are telling both to remain closed. This is all while national guidance says to reopen. 

'Our members have been asking what they should do – they are unclear about whether their insurance is valid if they reopen when their local authority is advising them not to.'

Parents worries

Meanwhile, the Parentkind survey suggests that a quarter of UK parents are concerned about how their children will cope going back to reopened schools.

The online survey by Parentkind asked parents about their biggest concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on children and received 257,392 responses from parents across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Nearly half (48 per cent) said they were concerned about their children not seeing their friends and socialising.

More than a third (35 per cent) are worried about their child’s mental health as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown restrictions. 

The findings also show that 38 per cent say that one of their biggest concerns is their child missing out on learning from their teachers, and that nearly a third (31 per cent) are concerned about their ability to juggle working and supporting their child’s learning.

Commenting on the results, CEO of Parentkind, John Jolly, said, 'In these unsettling times, parents are desperately seeking clarity and certainty about their children's schooling and education. As schools in England start to reopen to more pupils from next week, the Government must listen to parents about the reassurances that they seek, and address any parental concerns that remain, especially when it comes to children's wellbeing. 

'Pupils will return to a very different school environment, where they will not be able to socialise with their peers like they used to, and they will need time to adjust following a lengthy absence from the classroom.
How schools and parents can work together to support the mental health and wellbeing of every child as we experience this transition together must be the Government's top education priority.'

Parentkind asked parents to select their biggest concerns as a parent about Covid-19 from a list of 17. The top 10 concerns are:

  • My child not seeing their friends and socialising – 48 per cent
  • My child missing out on learning from teachers – 38 per cent
  • One or more of my family members catching Covid-19 – 35 per cent
  • My child’s mental health – 35 per cent
  • My ability to juggle working and support for my child's learning - 31 per cent
  • How my child will cope going back when the schools do reopen – 25 per cent
  • My child’s lack of motivation to complete the work set – 24 per cent
  • My child falling behind their classmates – 22 per cent
  • My child missing out on transition activities to their new school – 14 per cent
  • My mental health – 13 per cent

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