Updated guidance for reopening URC children's and youth work

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Following recent changes in government guidance and restrictions announced on 12 October, the United Reformed Church has produced a framework for those considering reopening gathered groups for children and youth work.

Children’s and youth work are permitted within restrictions (which vary according to nation and locality).

England

In England supervised activities provided for children and young people are exempt from the rule of six.

The National Youth Agency website states: "Despite the recent change to social gathering restrictions (9 September 2020), we can confirm that as an essential service, youth sector activity can continue unchanged where COVID-19 secure to NYA guidance standards."

However, the Government is "advising providers to keep children in small groups of no more than 15 children with the same children each time wherever possible (do not mix groups unless absolutely necessary)."

You may have more than one group share premises, dependent on the capacity of the premises to enable social distancing. Where possible children should be in groups that reflect bubbles from the school day and avoid mixing. Each group should have consistent leaders. You must maintain social distancing wherever possible.

All three new levels of restrictions (medium, high and very high) still permit organised children’s and youth work activities and support groups – however the increased risk from infection levels should be taken into account when deciding whether to operate. 

Scotland

In Scotland under 12s do not have to socially distance, those aged 12 and over do have to maintain physical distance. A maximum of 30 individuals (children, young people and leaders) in any session, but preferably minimise group size where possible. The Government advises "when considering indoor activity, other delivery options should continue to be fully considered at this time including outdoor and on-line activity which minimises contacts and reduce risks of transmission."

Wales

In Wales supervised recreation for children outdoors is one of the few exceptions to the maximum group size of 30. Indoor settings can increase the number of children in the group from 8 specified in previous guidance, with group size to be determined by the risk assessments undertaken by each setting (which will take into account children’s ages, size of setting, staff safety and so on).

Children should spend as much time outdoors as possible as this can limit transmission and more easily allow for distance between the groups. Since 30 July, young children (those of primary school age or younger) have been able to interact outside without social distancing. However, adults still need to continue to distance from one another.

Deciding whether or not to reopen

It is for local children’s and youth group leaders (in consultation with Church Elders) to consider whether online / support at home engagement should start to transition to reopening gathered groups.

Principles

1. Ask WHY you want to reopen – are you responding to a clear need in your local context? As the general guidance is to limit contact with people outside households/support bubbles, any activity which will increase contact needs to have a clear rationale.

2. Ask WHERE you will meet – the venue must comply with the government Covid-19 secure requirements for places of worship, community facilities, or outdoors in England; places of worship, public places in Scotland; or places of worship, community facilities, or public places in Wales. Outside is always lower risk and preferable to indoors.

3. Ask WHO will be excluded if you start face to face groups, and who will be excluded if you do not. Ask who may be impacted if a group member tests positive for Covid-19 in terms of quarantine and self-isolation (children and young people, siblings and parents/carers, leaders etc). No leader should feel obliged to reopen, especially if they or someone they care for is vulnerable.

4. Consult with the children, young people and families to hear their views about reopening your group.

5. Consult with the Church Elders or equivalent as the group with legal liability for all church activities. You cannot proceed without the church’s approval and they need to sign off all the various risk assessments.

Risk assessments

Risk of infection is impacted by proximity (how close people are together), duration (how long people are together), environment (how well ventilated) and contact with infected surfaces (furniture, washrooms, materials, door handles etc). There should be no sharing of food or drink, crockery or cutlery, equipment or materials. Ensure good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces more often than usual. Increase frequency of cleaning of toilets and washrooms and encourage everyone to clean their hands more often thanusual. All organised activities need to follow the government guidance for out of schools settings and must have the following in place to prevent the spread of infection (in addition to all normal safeguarding measures, see our safeguarding policy Good Practice 5):

  • Risk assessment of the premises or outdoor location – this must be Covid19 ready (for URC premises use Covid-19 Risk Assessment (PDF) or the editable version Covid-19 Risk Assessment - Excel spreadsheet). 

  • Risk assessment of the activity – how social distancing will be maintained, how group size will be managed, how materials will be used and cleaned etc (see national government guidance for out of schools settings and Appendix I A guide to risk assessment - PDF).

  • Risk assessment of the participants and leaders – awareness of personal levels of vulnerability to infection, willingness to self-isolate following NHS guidance in case of a reported case within the group (use Personal Risk Assessment - PDF). 

  • Revised emergency procedures to include fire evacuation with social distancing and first aid with PPE. 

  • System for collecting details of all those present for the appropriate national track and trace system (operating the church’s GDPR policy) and displaying information/QR codes. 

  • Training of all leaders and volunteer helpers in all measures to be taken to reduce the risk of transmission. 

  • Good communication with parents/carers and all participants about what to expect, measures in place and codes of conduct. 

  • Plan for arrivals and departures to maintain social distancing among parents/carers; and good hand hygiene among group members and leaders.

  • Plan for dealing with a group member or leader who becomes ill with potential Covid-19 symptoms during a session. 

  • System for enabling group members to remain in existing ‘bubbles’ (eg from school / household / extended household) in consistent groups with the same leaders each time to reduce mixing.

Your Synod CYDO or equivalent lead worker will be able to give some support.

Impact on typical session activities:

  • Parents and carers may NOT stay for the session (as that changes the definition of the type of activity) - see information below for toddler and support groups

  • Singing and shouting is to be avoided 

  • Recommend NO consumption of food or drink in the venue during the session 

  • No soft toys or removeable soft furnishings 

  • Where possible any physical activities and games should take place outside 

  • Leaders must socially distance from each other and groups 

  • Group members must keep to social distance rules for their locality during activities 

  • No shared craft materials or equipment 

  • No shared sports equipment 

  • Face coverings may be appropriate in some indoor spaces (eg corridors, entrance ways) 

  • Increased cleaning regime as required by risk assessment 

Toddler groups

In England guidance for early years and childcare providers now includes details for ‘Informal childcare’ (section 5.5). This says that, “Groups in the community, such as those held in a church hall, community centre or scout hut, must follow COVID-19 Secure guidance for the venue … Informal support groups … can still take place if they do not breach the new gatherings limit of 6 people. This means that there is no limit on the number of people that attend so long as people are organised into groups of 6 (including children) and that these groups do not change for the session.”

However this may be difficult to achieve in practice, and it’s worth noting that the guidance for community halls says that, “Activities and social groups where there is a significant likelihood of groups mixing and socialising (and where it will be difficult to prevent mingling and therefore breaking the law) should not take place in a community facility.” (Section 3c)

The DfE has stated that while standalone baby and toddler groups (and similar groups) are allowed to reopen, registered early years providers are currently not permitted to run stay and play sessions. LEPs should please note that the Church of England and the Methodist Church has concluded that the guidance means toddler groups are not permitted at present.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain note the complexities of the government guidance and tentatively conclude that toddler groups may meet in England under certain conditions, but they note that it will be difficult to prevent parents and children from mixing outside their group of up to six: “Taking all this into account, we suggest that toddler groups may meet where there is a real need for supporting families and especially vulnerable parents. Groups that have a purely social purpose for parents who are already well-supported and connected might be harder to justify. And no-one should feel under pressure to re-open a toddler group if you feel that it will inevitably lead to an unsafe degree of social mixing or be misunderstood by your community. Please think through your risk assessment carefully.”

Download guidance from the Baptist Union (PDF).

The URC takes the same general view as the Baptists, that where premises permit separating into subgroups of no more than six including children with no mixing, and all other Covid-19 secure measures are in place, groups may operate. Please note that pregnant women are considered clinically vulnerable.

There is helpful information on toddler groups on the CARE playtime website.

12 October 2020

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