More people will be allowed to access childcare as further lockdown restrictions are eased, the executive has said.
The Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Education (DE) have agreed changes to the definition of a key worker.
A £12m scheme was announced in April to help childcare stay open for key worker’s children.
Run by the DoH and DE, it uses the health department’s key worker list.
Speaking at Thursday’s daily Stormont briefing, first minister Arlene Foster said the key worker definition had now been “regularised.”
She said childcare “is integral to allowing people to go back to work”.
“We hope that that will allow people to access childcare, in a way that allows them to return to work,” she said
The same keyworker list will be used for childcare as is currently used by schools from 8 June.
‘Lynchpin of economy’
The head of the NI Childminding Association said childcare has been an afterthought during the pandemic.
Patricia Lewsley-Mooney said it was disappointing childcare was not mentioned in the executive’s five-step plan.
“For me, the childcare sector and particularly childminders, are a lynchpin to getting the economy back up and running,” Ms Lewsley-Mooney told BBC Newsline.
The health departments’ key worker list comprised mostly of health and care staff, as well as teachers and social workers.
Using the education department list means the childcare scheme will now be extended to more sectors including:
- Health and Social Care
- Education and childcare
- Public safety and national security
- Utilities, and Communication
- Financial Services
- Food production, processing, distribution and sale
- Retail – now extended to those working in businesses permitted to operate by the executive
Health Minister Robin Swann said the revised definition “will enable a greater number of keyworkers who are parents to access childcare if they need it to be able to go to work”.
The scheme has previously faced criticism from some parents who said its scope was restrictive.
Education Minister Peter Weir said extending the scheme “is in line with the Executive’s Coronavirus Recovery Plan to enable as many people as possible to get back to work”.
He added: “As demand for childcare grows, we are determined to ensure that measures are in place to support all our people who are working tirelessly at the frontline of this current crisis.”
The departments said to help with infection control, the reopening of childcare provision would be overseen by Health and Social Care Trust Early Years Teams who will have access to COVID-19 advice from the Public Health Agency.
There will continue to be restrictions on group size in childcare settings, but there will be a gradual increase in the numbers of families childminders can provide childcare for, moving from two to three families from 8 June.