Coronavirus: Stormont launches £12m key worker childcare scheme

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

  • Published
nurseryImage source, Getty Images

Daycare and childcare providers in Northern Ireland will get extra money to stay open for key workers' children.

Providers will initially be funded until 30 June and the £12m scheme will be paid for through the executive's Covid-19 response budget.

It is being run by Stormont's education and health departments.

Education Minister Peter Weir gave details of the scheme to the Northern Ireland's Assembly's ad-hoc committee on Covid-19 on Thursday.

"It helps to address a number of key issues for childcare provision," he said.

"Whenever we come out of this we need to ensure there is a childcare sector."

Vulnerable children are also included in the arrangements.

Image source, PA Media

A previous scheme to enable home childcare for key workers in the event of their child's daycare or nursery closing had faced some criticism.

Some key workers - such as healthcare staff - said they faced substantially increased costs for childcare if their child's nursery closed.

Some nurseries and daycare settings also had to close due to staff concerns and parents withdrawing their children.

The new scheme ensures key workers will not face higher costs for childcare if their child's nursery or daycare closes.

How the scheme will work?

Parents will continue to pay their current fees to their provider.

If a member of nursery staff can care for the key workers' child at their home the executive will pay them one-and-a-half times their normal hourly salary.

Under the new scheme, daycare providers and nurseries will have to restrict the number of children they care for if they stay open.

But they will be paid extra money for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic if they can do that to admit children of key workers.

They will receive payments to meet their monthly core and staff costs in full, minus any fees collected from parents.

They will also be funded to pay staff 1.2 times their normal salary.

Childminders will not be able to care for more than the children of two families and will have to adhere to infection control guidance.

But those who look after key workers' children will be paid an extra £125 per place per month up to a maximum payment of £500 per childminder per month.

Full details of the new scheme are on the Family Support NI website.

Parentline NI is the point of contact for the home childcare scheme.

The key workers eligible to get childcare through the scheme include:

  • Health and social care workers providing clinical care for those who have tested positive for Covid-19
  • Health and social care workers supporting life threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision
  • All other health and social care workers and workers in the emergency services
  • Social workers and teachers in schools remaining open
  • Only one parent will be required to be a key worker to use the scheme.

Volunteers answer call

Mr Weir also told assembly members more than 1,000 volunteers had come forward to work in schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

He had previously called for retired teachers and other education workers to volunteer to keep schools open.

Access NI have checked and cleared a total of 882 volunteers.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Education Minister Peter Weir announced the scheme at Stormont

Mr Weir added there were no plans to reopen schools in the "immediate future".

He said the executive would have to decide when it was safe and appropriate to open schools.

"That is something that will constantly be kept under review, there are no plans at this stage to reopen in the immediate future," he said.

"It will be a moveable situation," Mr Weir said.