Julie Morgan, Deputy Minister for Social Services
Childcare and playwork settings, including our Flying Start settings, have been a key part of our response to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The role of these settings in offering nurturing environments for our children as well as the vital support they provide to parents, particularly those who rely on childcare to be able to work, cannot be overstated. This has not always been easy, and we know that our childcare and playwork settings have had to make many changes to the way in which they provide their services to ensure they are as safe as possible.
To support our settings we have provided guidance on the Protective Measures in Childcare Settings. We have provided additional guidance for Flying Start settings, and for open access play provision. The sector is also supported by the twice weekly Lateral Flow Device testing offer which helps to minimise the risk of transmission and keeps staff and children safe. Collectively, these measures and the dedication of staff has meant that overall the number of outbreaks of COVID-19 in childcare and playwork settings has remained relatively low.
Our guidance, which has been regularly updated to reflect our evolving understanding of the virus, has always been rooted in both the evidence, and the public health position. While the public health position remains of concern I am pleased that we are at a position where we are now able to relax one of the requirements which has been of most concern to the sector.
Up until now childcare settings have been required to ensure that children are kept in consistent contact groups. Wherever possible they have also been asked to mirror the contact groups children are in at school, and to ensure there is no mixing between groups. This approach proved to be a vital measure during the peak of the pandemic, and before the roll out of community testing and vaccines. However, we know they have limited the number of children that can benefit from the services our childcare and playwork providers, including Flying Start settings, can offer. They also cause significant logistical and operational challenges to settings, particularly where children attend more than one setting, or use childcare or playwork provision alongside school.
While the pandemic has not gone away, and we must remain vigilant, we are in a position where we have been able to ease a number of the wider restrictions brought in to manage the virus. For children and young people this has seen the reintroduction of organised activities, enabling them to mix with others on a broader basis. This has meant that many children now find themselves in several contact groups, across school, childcare and any extra activities they undertake. As a consequence, and with the summer coming, it is now appropriate for us to review the use of contact groups in childcare and playwork settings and adapt the approach as our public health response evolves.
In discussion with public health officials and in line with the wider community approach to mitigating the risk of transmission, the decision has been taken to move away from a focus on the requirement to maintain consistent contact groups across our childcare and playwork settings, including Flying Start settings. The use of consistent contact groups will no longer be required from Monday 19 July.
The reliance on consistent contact groups will be replaced by a stronger focus on contact tracing. Settings will need to ensure that they maintain detailed records of attendance and activities to enable clear identification of close contacts to a positive case. With these measures in place, the risks of transmission in childcare settings would continue to be mitigated.
This change is a response to the increasing role being played by the vaccination of adults in Wales, the twice weekly testing offer to staff in childcare and our effective contact tracing system. It does not signal a relaxation of all control measures, or mean that we can now become complacent. The continued implementation of other control measures, such as good ventilation, thorough hand hygiene and enhanced cleaning practices remain paramount to reducing the risk of transmission. Settings must also ensure that they do not allow staff or children who have tested positive or who should be self-isolating to attend the setting.
The Protective Measures in Childcare Settings guidance and associated FAQs will be updated to reflect this change and to provide additional advice for settings on how to remain covid-secure.