ECDs seek clarity on reopening

Lady Buxton Preschool staff with their Covid-19 safety posters, from left, Maggie Wildschutt, Marcelle Kouter, Monica Sambata, Tarrin-Lee Canny, Hayley Louw, Charlene Lewin and Amina Samuels.

Continuing confusion over when nursery schools and creches can reopen threatens both their future and that of the children who attend them, says an early childhood development expert.

Professor Eric Atmore, the director of the Claremont-based Centre for Early Childhood Development (CECD), says hundreds of ECDs will struggle to stay open after being shuttered for three months of Covid-19 lockdown.

And he believes many children are more at risk from the continued closure of the ECDs than they are from Covid-19.

“Children depend on ECDs to get a nutritious meal, and children who live in at-risk communities may face child neglect and become victims to violence which has occurred recently.”

ECDs should also be reopened because parents needed to work, he said.

“Now, with nearly 95% of the workforce returning, parents want to know that their children are safe.”

Professor Atmore said reopening the ECDs should pose no problem as long as they followed Covid-19 health regulations, including regular sanitising, physical distancing and the wearing of masks.

The CECD wants the government to give R20 000 to all ECDs to help them get ready for reopening. Unregistered ECDs should get the same support as registered ones, said Professor Atmore, because they were often in poor communities serving the neediest children.

Audrey Swartz, the centre manager for Bridges Play Centre in Bridgetown and Nantes ECD in Silvertown, said the lockdown had caused a lot of anxiety for staff and parents.

“We may not get all the children back, though for the children that do return, we will ensure that they can wear their masks and follow physical distancing and good hygiene practices,” she said.

They had encouraged children to hug each other and share; now they needed to do the opposite to keep them apart, she said.

Director of Lady Buxon Preschool in Claremont, Sedick Dawood, said there was a lot of uncertainty among the staff about when the national Department of Social Development would give them the go-ahead to open.

The non-profit preschool has 25 staff and 100 children. Staff have had to rely on unemployment insurance fund payments for the past three months.

“The staff are eager to come back and work,” Mr Dawood said.

Ananda Nel, from the provincial Department of Social Development, said they had continued to fund the ECDs they had supported prior to lockdown.

“The national Department of Social Development has issued a circular regarding preparation for the reopening of ECDs and after- school care facilities and programmes, as well as standard operating procedures and guidelines that provide measures to address, prevent and combat the spread of Covid- 19 within this space,” she said.

The provincial department, she said, was still reassessing the readiness of the ECDs to reopen, but it was up to Minister Lindiwe Zulu to say when that would happen.

Meanwhile, the CECD is trying to raise R2.4 million to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for 600 ECDs To support the campaign, follow #PPEforECD on Facebook and Twitter or email CECD programme manager Bridget Kahts at bkahts@cecd.org.za