'Thousands of children at risk': Government urged to announce opening dates for early childhood development centres

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The benefits of sending children to preschool are significant, but is it safe?
The benefits of sending children to preschool are significant, but is it safe?

When will daycares and pre-schools reopen?

This question seems to have not only parents facing uncertainty and confusion, but even the Department of Social Development (DSD), which oversees early childhood development centres (ECDs), and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) can't answer it.  

In response to the desperation of many businesses and families who need childcare, the Western Cape Provincial Minister of Social Development, Sharna Fernandez, has called on the DSD Minister Lindiwe Zulu to announce a reopening date for Early Childhood Development centres as a matter of urgency.

Minister Fernandez is asking that the department finalise the much awaited Directions as both the safety of children and the livelihoods of ECD workers are at stake.

Children at risk

"Every day that passes without the Directions finalised, and without the announcement of a reopening date, thousands of young children around the country are left without a safe space as their parents have to return to work, or have to go without a meal usually provided at the ECD centre," she said.

"The risk of closure increases each day for scores ECDs, along with the risk of leaving staff and their families destitute," says Fernandez.   

Also read: How lockdown has impacted childcare centres in South Africa 

Confusion and frustration

She adds that Minister Zulu’s silence on the reopening of ECD centres has added to the confusion around the issuing of Directions by DBE Minister, Angie Motshekga, which initially included pre-Grade R therein. The latest developments, says Fernandez, are bound to cause further frustration.

The DBE’s Directions previously stated that children in pre-Grade R would be allowed to return to school on 6 July. The Directions published on Tuesday, 29 June, were amended to exclude pre-Grade R.

This means that only children in Grades R to 12, as defined and regulated by the Schools Act, may return to school on the given dates. It excludes all other younger children, even if their classes are part of a public or independent school.  

Also read: 'Pre-schools should be filled with laughter and love, instead they are empty and silent' 

Livelihoods on the line

If an early childhood development programme falls under the provisions of the Children's Act, or a pre-Grade R class/pre-school is attached to a school, there currently is no date for the return of these children. 

"It is for the sake of our children’s safety, and for all of the livelihoods on the line, that I once again appeal to Minister Zulu to act decisively regarding the opening date for ECDs," reads Minister Fernandez's appeal.  

The Standard Operating Procedures and Guidelines for the operation of ECDs were released by National DSD last week, and include safety protocols for staff and children, but without an opening date these are all but useless. 

Also read: Should your little one return to preschool before the Covid-19 pandemic is over?

Compiled by Elizabeth Mamacos


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