COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

8 August 2020

The situation is changing rapidly, so we have created frequently asked questions (FAQ) to address common concerns. We will update this page as new information becomes available.

How can families contact ECMS if they are concerned about COVID-19?

We have set up a dedicated phone number and email for your COVID-19 questions:

  • 1300 344 969 will be updated daily with any up-to-date or closure information. It will also give you an option to speak to an ECMS Crisis Management Team member. This line is available from 9am to 5pm. 
  • You can also email Covid-19@ecms.org.au to reach an ECMS Crisis Management Team member.

Which ECMS centres are closed?

On 2 August, the State Government announced stage 4 restrictions within metropolitan Melbourne. Effective Thursday 6 August, kindergartens and early learning centres in metropolitan Melbourne will only remain open to provide education and care for those children whose parents or carers are 'permitted workers' and for vulnerable children. These restrictions will remain in place until Sunday 13 September. Services outside of metropolitan Melbourne (Darley and Young Street) remain under stage 3 restrictions. They can continue to operate under the robust health and safety guidelines we have implemented across all our centres.  

Depending on how many families need access to centres, some of our may have changes to their day-to-day operations.

What is a Permitted Worker?

A parent or guardian who works in one of the defined permitted industries.

Do I need a permit to access childcare or kindergarten?

In line with the Government guidelines, you will need a copy of one of the following documents for your child to continue to attend the centre:

  • If you are a permitted worker who needs childcare, you can access the Permitted Worker Permit (including childcare) document here.

  • If you are a permitted worker who needs childcare and you work from home, you can access the Access to Childcare and Kinder (Working from Home) document here.

  • If you are the parent or guardian of a child experiencing vulnerability, please speak with your Centre Director or Nominated Supervisor who can provide you with a document to verify you are eligible to attend the centre. This document is for children in out-of-home care or known to child protection, medically or socially vulnerable children and Koorie children. Medically or socially vulnerable children could include children eligible for the Victorian Kindergarten Inclusion Support Program or the Commonwealth Inclusion Support Program, children with complex medical needs who are not at elevated risk from COVID-19, and children from a refugee or non-English speaking background. 

What are the Government eligibility requirements to access childcare or kindergarten for permitted workers?

Permitted workers can access onsite childcare and kindergarten if there is no one else in their household who can supervise children. For example, a permitted worker in a single-parent household may access childcare and kindergarten.

If there is another carer in the household, permitted workers can still access onsite childcare and kindergarten if the other parent or carer cannot supervise the children. This could be for various reasons - for example, their partner or co-parent:

  • has a medical condition, or chronic illness which prevents them from caring for the child

  • has a disability

  • is completing full-time study and must attend onsite

  • works from home, but in a role where they cannot supervise the children, resulting in the permitted worker not being able to do their job.

What happens to childcare fees during stage 4 restrictions?

The Federal Government announced that early learning centres located in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire can waive the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) gap fees for children who are not attending the centre for COVID-related reasons from Monday 13 July.

This means that families who are eligible for Child Care Subsidy (CCS) have the option for their child not to attend the centre and will not be charged fees. This is a great initiative as it means we can still hold your child’s place if you cannot attend, and you will have no out-of-pocket costs. Therefore, if you are thinking about cancelling, please know you do not have to cancel or reduce your days during the lockdown period of 13 July to 13 September, as you will not be charged. If your child is at home, we will guarantee their place.

If you have any concerns or questions, please contact our enrolments team enrolments@ecms.org.au so we can help you through this difficult time.

Are there any additional allowable absences due to the lockdowns?

The Federal Government announced an additional 30 days of allowable absences, starting Thursday 6 August.

Is there additional financial support for childcare?

If you need additional financial support to continue to bring your child or increase your days, the Government’s Additional Child Care Subsidy (ACCS) Temporary Financial Hardship is more widely-available now to provide further short-term support to families experiencing a significantly reduced ability to pay childcare fees. You can apply for the subsidy by accessing your Centrelink online account through myGov or by visiting a Centrelink office and applying in person.

What happens to kindergarten fees in Term 3 during stage 4 restrictions?

For children of permitted workers and vulnerable children attending the kindergarten, there will be no change to your Term 3 fees. Due to Victoria’s declared state of disaster for families of children who are not permitted to attend kindergarten or choose to remain at home, you will not be charged a fee from Thursday 6 August until the end of Term 3. If you have already paid your fees, we will apply a credit to your Term 4 fees. If your child is at home, we will guarantee your place

If your enrolment circumstances have changed, please email enrolments@ecms.org.au with your family, service and group details.

Four-year-old sessional kindergarten programs remain free for eligible children through the Kindergarten Fee Subsidy. This includes children whose families identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, hold a Commonwealth Health Care Card and other concession cards, or hold a refugee or asylum seeker visa. 

How do I talk to my child about COVID-19 (coronavirus)?

We have created an article to help guide you in how you can talk to your child about the coronavirus. This link provides a story you can download and read with your child to familiarise them with the use of face masks. 

When do I have to self-isolate?

In line with Federal and State government advice, the following quarantine requirements are in place at all our centres for children, families and staff. You must self-isolate for 14 days if:

  • You are diagnosed with COVID-19.

  • You have been in close contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19. In the event of multiple positive contacts in the household, the 14 days starts from when the last person diagnosed gets clearance from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

  • You have returned from any overseas country.

  • You have returned from a state or territory where self-isolation border measures are in place.

  • You have participated in COVID-19 testing (whether you have symptoms or not) until the results prove negative.

How are you encouraging social distancing for parents, children and staff?

In line with Federal Government requirements, we are encouraging the use of social distancing within our centres. Where possible, we are requesting that one parent or guardian (wearing a mask) enters the centre at a time to collect a child. Also, again where possible, parents are requested to minimise the attendance of siblings within our centres. If you need help with this, then please speak with your Centre Director or Nominated Supervisor.

To support and enable social distancing, we are encouraging the use of technology to communicate with families. We encourage parents or guardians to pick-up and drop-off children as quickly as possible and to limit their opportunities to talk with others. Families and educators can use phone calls, Storypark, text messaging or FaceTime for longer conversations about a child.

How are you encouraging social distancing within the learning environments?

To support and facilitate social distancing in our centres, we are:

  • Encouraging parents/guardians and children to wash their hands when arriving at the service.

  • Encouraging handwashing for children at regular intervals throughout the day and proving discussions, demonstrations, and modelling of these behaviours.

  • Setting up activities that encourage children to participate with their peers in the safest way, for example, experiences set at each end of a table.

  • Using progressive snack and meals times to ensure children are not all eating at once and where possible limiting numbers at a table.

  • Encouraging the use of a full indoor/outdoor space for the whole session (ratio-dependent). 

  • Encouraging a central drop-off and collection point for children to reduce the number of adults entering the service.

  • Stopping group gatherings (such as group or storytimes) to more informal learning opportunities to engage with children individually or in a group of two.

  • Reducing the amount of sensory activities (such as play dough) within the session to prevent cross-contamination.

  • Encouraging the use of staggered start and finish times (particularly within sessional kindergartens).

What additional measures have you implemented to ensure the health and safety of educators and children?

We have implemented further health and safety measures across our services, many of which the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee endorses. These include:

  • Temperature checking of all children upon arrival. Children's temperature must be below 37.5 degrees. Nominated Supervisors or Centre Directors will talk with families whose children may present as unwell. You must not give your child/ren any fever-reducing medication before drop-off (e.g. paracetamol or ibuprofen).

  • Nominated Supervisors will check each staff member's temperature before they start work. This must be below 37.5 degrees.

  • Staggered starts – your centre will guide you on staggered starts suitable for their environment.

  • Guidance on physical distancing – services will have physical distancing markers on the floor to guide distance requirements where needed and warranted.

  • More regular cleaning of surfaces and resources, at least twice daily, as well as routine cleaning of toys and resources.

  • Rearranging classrooms – to ensure physical distancing is achievable.

  • No gathering of parents on kindergarten premises inside or outside.

  • We ask families who work as frontline health workers or in other emergency services to wear a change of clothes when collecting their child after completing their shift.

We have a detailed and robust Health and Safety Guidelines in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which are frequently updated in line with Government advice.

Are you taking each child’s temperature on arrival at the centre?

Yes. If a child's temperature is elevated (above 37.5 degrees), then the educators will inform the family that they cannot attend care on this day and encourage them to seek medical advice. Educators performing temperature screening are required by the Department of Education and Training (DET) to wear a face mask. Please note that these precautions are also in place for our educators. If they become unwell during a session, they will immediately be sent home.

Why are some staff wearing face masks all the time and others occasionally?

On 19 July, the State Government announced that from 11.59pm Wednesday 22 July, Victorians living in metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, over the age of 12, must wear a face-covering when leaving home. The fine for not wearing a face-covering is $200.

In our early learning centres and kindergartens, this means we have updated our health and safety measures with the following:

  • Your child is not required to wear a face mask during attendance.

  • During drop-off and pick-up we ask you to wear a face mask until we receive further advice from health authorities. You will not be able to enter the centre without a face mask/covering. This is to remain on at all times while within the service.

In line with the  DET requirements, educators must wear a face mask when:

  • Greeting and/or taking temperature checks during drop-off.

  • They are in other areas of the centre (for example, in reception areas, staff rooms, kitchen and foyers).

  • Assisting an unwell child.

  • Travelling to and from home.

Please note: As advised by the DET, teachers and educators do not need to wear a face-covering while working with children, except for the above situations, but may choose to do so.

We understand this can also be an uncertain time for children. This link provides a story you can download and read with your child to familiarise them with the use of face masks. 

Do I have to wear a face mask/covering to enter the service?

Yes. From 11.59pm Wednesday 22 July, Victorians living in metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, over the age of 12, must wear a face-covering when leaving home.

Parents and guardians and any child over the age of 12 must wear a face mask or covering before entering the service and keep this on while at the centre. No entry will be permitted without a face mask or covering. More information on masks is available here.

Please note medical exemptions for face-coverings may apply. Please speak to your Centre Director or Nominated Supervisor before your arrival if these circumstances apply. 

How else can I keep the community safe?

  • Frequently wash your hands using soap and water and/or alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

  • When you cough and sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with your elbow or tissue, throw away your tissue immediately and wash your hands.

  • Keep your child at home if they have any cold and flu symptoms (even mild), including, fever, chills, sweats, runny nose, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath or loss of sense of smell or taste. (If your child displays any of these symptoms while in attendance, we will contact you to pick up your child immediately).

  • Use of fever-reducing medication (for example, paracetamol or Ibuprofen) to your child before attending is not acceptable. You will be asked to pick up your child when they are unwell.

  • If you are unwell, do not enter the centre until your symptoms have resolved.

  • If your child is being tested for COVID-19 with or without symptoms (asymptomatic), your child must stay at home until you receive a negative test result. 

  • If you are awaiting COVID-19 test results, please do not enter the centre until you receive a negative test result.

  • If your child is being tested for COVID-19, please continue to notify your centre via phone or email.

  • As per the DHHS and DET advice, any adult entering the centre must wear a face-covering or mask during drop-off and pick-up to help protect you and others by providing an additional barrier.

  • Only one parent or guardian (wearing a mask) should enter the centre at a time to collect your child.

  • Minimise the attendance of siblings at the centre. If you need help with this, then please speak with your Centre Director or Nominated Supervisor.

  • Use hand sanitiser as you enter and leave the centre.

  • Pick-up and drop-off your child as quickly as possible.

  • Limit your discussions with others. 

  • Use technology to communicate with your educator via phone calls and Storypark to discuss your child’s needs.

What is ECMS' policy and procedure for COVID-19 symptoms and the return to the service?

We require a clearance certificate for any noted diseases on the exclusion table provided by the DHHS. As COVID-19 is yet to be included on the exclusion table, and we are waiting for this information to be updated, we are using advice from the DET.

We encourage you to keep your child at home until they have fully recovered and are symptom-free. Should there be any concern about continuing symptoms on return, we may request a medical certificate.

How are you protecting my child at the centre?

In our everyday practise, we have strict protocols around cleaning to protect children and staff's health, safety and wellbeing. During this outbreak, we have increased the frequency of our centre cleaning that goes beyond our regulations. If there is a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, the centre will also undergo further professional cleaning with high-grade disinfectant products. Please speak with your Centre Directors or Nominated Supervisors to discuss other measures in place at your centre.

How can I protect my child and family from COVID-19?

The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to practice good hygiene and social distancing.

This includes:

  • Wash hands often with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. Dry with a paper towel or hand dryer.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow.

  • Throw tissues away immediately and wash your hands.

  • Ensure your hand sanitiser is alcohol-based (with over 60 per cent alcohol). Please note that hand sanitiser can be poisonous if ingested, so ensure it is kept out of reach of young children.

  • Exercise social distancing (stay more than 1.5 metres from people).

My child has complex medical needs. Can they attend?

Please speak to your medical practitioner about on-site education and care during COVID-19. We will assist you as best as possible during this time.

Will I be notified if there is a diagnosed case at my centre?

Yes, we will immediately inform all families and staff.

What happens if the centre is forced to close?

It is highly likely that one or many of our centres will be forced to close either due to a confirmed case/s of COVID-19 or due to a Government directive. If a closure is necessary, the following will happen:

  • We will take the direction of the DHHS.

  • If required to close, we will notify you of the closure via email and SMS, including possible closure timeframes. 

  • If available at that time, we will notify you of the risk and if self-isolation is required.

During a centre's closure, we will update you through our communication channels, including when the centre will re-open; and other health and wellbeing measures available to you and your family.

Will there be any online learning if a centre is forced to close?

We launched Play and Learn with ECMS support learning from home at the start of Term 2. Learning from home activities and experiences will be available to families through Storypark and via our website www.ecms.org.au.

My child is not feeling well, but does not have a temperature, what should I do?

The DHHS states that adults and children, even with the mildest of symptoms, should seek medical advice and get tested. More information is available here. If your child is displaying any signs of an illness – this includes cold, flu or is unwell with a temperature, you should not bring them to the centre. The Government has released a symptom tool to help provide clarity between cold, flu and COVID-19 symptoms.

What happens if my child is unwell at the centre?

If your child displays cold or flu symptoms, or is unwell with a temperature while at the centre, we will contact you to pick up your child immediately. Staff attending to a child who has any illness symptoms must wear a face mask.

My child has been tested for COVID-19 but does not have any symptoms. Can they attend?

In line with advice from the DHHS, anyone who has been tested for COVID-19 must self-isolate until results can prove negative. Therefore, they cannot attend the centre. This includes children, parents (or member of the immediate household) and staff who have been tested, even without symptoms.

What if I think I have COVID-19?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle pain and fatigue. The DHHS has created a self-assessment tool to help people at risk or who are concerned.

Are you still having incursions and excursions?

We have proactively minimised contact with external visitors. Therefore, we have cancelled all incursions and excursions until further notice. The DET advised on 25 May 2020 that where services have previously conducted outdoors programs (e.g. Bush or Beach Kinder) these can now re-start when practical.

Will open days and family days still go ahead?

We have taken the precautionary step to cancel or postpone all open days and centre events (picnics, family nights, etc.).

My family is planning to travel interstate or overseas this year. Do I need to update the centre?

We ask that if you have travel booked for this year that you regularly check Smart Traveller for travel restrictions. Any travel overseas to any country will require 14 days of self-isolation upon return.

If you are planning to travel interstate or overseas this year, we ask that you let your Centre Director or Nominated Supervisor know your destination and dates. You can also email this information to Covid-19@ecms.org.au.

How do I stay updated with COVID-19?

We will continue to keep you updated with advice that follows the national public health guidelines to ensure the health and safety of children and staff in our centres.

Other sources for updates and support are: 

  • The Australian Government's Coronavirus Australia app. iOS download here. Android download here.

  • Daily updates from the COVIDsafe app

  • Daily updates from the DHHS website.

  • Fact sheets from the DET website.

  • Video resources with information and tips from the DHHS website.

  • The National Coronavirus Health Information Line (call 1800 020 080), which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

  • Translating or interpreting services (call 131 450).