• James Butler

A Comprehensive Risk Assessment

Many of you will be very concerned about the proposed return to work for the Early Childhood Sector on June 1st. I certainly am and have shared my feelings here. We now have some government guidance which is contradictory and fills me with no confidence at all. The unions are guiding us to resist the return but for many of us, that is impossible. Especially those of us working in the private sector.


So we need to keep our children, their families and our staff safe. Is this possible? Maybe not but we can limit the risk as much as possible and to do this we are going to have to write some of the most comprehensive risk assessments our organisations have ever seen. This is going to be an incredibly complex task but, like everything, it all comes back to keeping children safe and happy. I propose, in order to keep things simple, we got right back to Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’.





In 1943 Maslow theorised that people needed to have a series of needs met in order to be content and began to achieve a level of self-fulfilment. In an educational context, children would need to have every area of the hierarchy met in order to achieve and learn effectively. Can we do that on June 1st?


Physiological Needs


These are the most basic needs of our children, the need for food, rest, etc. I presume that this is something we can do in settings. This does mean returning our kitchen staff to work or asking parents to provide food for their child.


Safety


This is something I cannot answer. I am not completely sure that children will be safe in our settings. At the time of writing this, the latest figures from the government show 3403 new infections in the last 24 hours. If this continues we cannot guarantee that children or staff in our settings will not be infected, We can limit this risk by enforcing social distancing, providing PPE and cleaning/removing resources. The government seem to be suggesting that the risk to children is low but this does not reduce the fears of staff and families. There is no evidence to suggest children are less infectious and in fact, a German study found them to be equally as infectious as adults.


Love & Belonging


This involves building those key relationships with our children and allowing them to make those relationships with each other. We know that for children in our context this involves a lot of physical contact and play but this must be limited in order to ensure safety. The government has acknowledged that making young children socially distance will prove impossible but they have not yet issued guidance on what we do instead. I do not see how this need can be met whilst keeping children and staff safe from infection. A baby needs to be held, a toddler needs to be changed, a child needs to be reassured when they cry.


Esteem


We cannot guarantee that children will be safe and we cannot give them a sense of belonging or the love they need. Positive esteem is difficult if not unachievable.


Conclusion


It seems pretty clear to me that we will be unable to satisfy all the requirements for children to achieve self-actualization and the right environment in which to learn. So why are we opening? We are not in a position to provide education or high-quality care.


It is becoming increasingly clear that the purpose of our return is not in the best interests of children but in the best interests of the economy and getting parents back to work. If the government acknowledged this then we can begin to reopen our settings in a different mindset. We can care for children but we are unable to provide an environment in which they will be happy or able to learn. Staff who care for the very youngest children will have to be given adequate PPE to keep them safe and must change this between interacting with each child. Our older children will have to be encouraged to social distance and refrain from touching each other or their key adults. Our settings will have to be stripped back to an almost clinical setting with resources and surfaces that will need to be cleaned continuously. Staff will be beyond anxious and will require significant support.


We can provide a level of care that meets the needs of the economy but not one that meets the needs of children.


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