A new model for the reopening of childcare will see limited interaction between parents and carers, including staggering operating hours, and hosting children in special pod settings.
Amid concern that providers may not come on board, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone told the Dáil that in other countries demand for services had reduced because of parents' fears of risks.
But Ms Zappone has come under fire today in Dáil chamber after the collapse of the first phase of childcare resuming for essential healthcare workers.
After this failure, department officials are also now scrambling to ensure that a general restarting of care services for essential workers children can go ahead on June 29, as is planned.
Ms Zappone admitted to the Opposition that it was a “big step”, adding:
“I don’t underestimate the challenge. Nor do I underestimate the anxiety for parents and childcare professionals.”
She said the government was looking at the Norweigan model of childcare returning.
Children under six could not do social distancing, she said.
Attempts at social distancing would be traumatic for children and for the adults that care for them.
Regular handwashing would be the norm in creches and childcare facilities, the Dáil heard.
Provisional plans include caring for children in so-called pods.
This would involve small groups of children with the same childcare practitioner, in the same room with the same toys every time they are there.
The number of children that could be cared for by a single adult childcare practitioner is still being explored.
Other ways to limit the spread of the virus among practitioners and children was also being examined, the Dail heard. Ms Zappone added:
“They will play together and will be encouraged to stay together in this little Pod. They will be encouraged to use outdoor space as much as possible.
“We need to examine how adults working in the childcare centre can social distance between each other as far as possible.
In order to keep children, childcare practitioners and families as safe as possible we also need to examine ways of limiting interaction with other parents and guardians.
“This will require practical arrangements to help us minimise this contact.
“In other countries, they have done this by having staggered opening hours but we will also examine other practices related to reception of children.”
Special methods of handing over children at facilities are being developed. Ms Zappone said:
“One option is to devise a way for children to be received at the crèche by parents remaining in their cars while childcare practitioners collect the children from the cars if that is how they travel.