What you need to know about emergency planning at child care

Published on Wednesday, 10 February 2021
Last updated on Monday, 08 February 2021

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Early learning services take children’s health and safety very seriously. 

There are policies and procedures in place to ensure under sixes are well cared for during the course of the normal ECE day, and if something unexpected should happen, then educators and other staff are ready. 

Services are legally required to meet standards around health and safety, emergency preparedness, hazards and risk management; and all licensed early learning services must have a written emergency plan and sufficient supplies to ensure the safety and care of everyone at the service. 

Here, we look at the emergency plan in more detail and explain the key emergency management information your child’s service should share with you. 

What information must an early learning emergency plan include?

Although we hope the worst doesn’t happen, it’s vital that early learning services are prepared for an emergency and know how to manage one before it occurs. 

To help them do this, the Ministry of Education says that a written emergency plan must include at least:

  • An evacuation procedure for the premises, which applies in a variety of emergency situations

  • A list of safety and emergency supplies and resources sufficient for the ages and number of people at the service, plus details of how these will be maintained and accessed in an emergency

  • Details about different roles and responsibilities during an emergency (the government recommends an Incident Management Team which includes the service’s manager and senior staff)

  • A communication plan for families and support services (e.g. police and the Ministry of Education), and

  • Evidence that the emergency plan is reviewed at least once a year and that improved practices are implemented as needed. 

The government says the emergency plan needs to be ‘Pragmatic, support adaptive leadership, and have child wellbeing at the centre of all planning and preparation.’ 

Services plan for emergencies based on their unique environment and context (e.g. if they’re in a coastal setting, a tsunami evacuation plan will be key) and the emergency plan will support children with diverse needs (e.g. a child might be particularly sensitive to sirens or require specific medical supplies). 

Early learning services plan how children will be reunited with families in the case of an emergency and use drills to prepare staff and children for unexpected events (e.g. fire, earthquake, lockdown or shelter in place drills). Fire drills must occur at least once every three months, and drills on what to do in violent situations are practised by staff, without children present.  

All in all, services are guided by the government’s Planning and Preparing for Emergencies document, which provides practical information and was reviewed and updated not long ago. 

What key emergency management information should you know about your child’s service?

To help your family prepare for the unexpected and plan for the worst, your early learning service will provide you with emergency management information tailored to its specific needs and the needs of your community. 

As a guide, they may:

  • Explain the key risks for your service, e.g. volcanic eruption, tsunami or flooding

  • List members of an Incident Management Team and explain how often they meet

  • List the activities and systems your service has in place to support its emergency management planning and response

  • Provide details of its emergency kit and equipment

  • Explain how, and how often, the service’s emergency plan will be reviewed

  • Explain how they’ll communicate with you in an emergency, e.g. by e-text, email, Facebook or perhaps via a local radio station if internet and phone lines are down

  • Name the person/people authorised to pick up your child in an emergency

  • Advise where your service’s various evacuation sites are, including a site map

  • Describe your service’s shelter location and lockdown processes and expectations, e.g. ‘If needed and when it is safe to do so, we will ask you to come and collect your child’

  • Explain your service’s reunification process after an emergency event, including if your child has been evacuated from the service

  • Explain how the service will support children after an emergency event, e.g. by providing age-appropriate information to them, monitoring their wellbeing and putting you or your child in touch with support services. 

This emergency management information may be added to your early learning service’s website or sent out as a reminder at the start of each term, and if you have any questions or concerns, you should speak with the service manager, Incident Management Team leader or other relevant contact. 

What effect did the Christchurch lockdown have on emergency management in early learning services? 

On 15 March, 2019, Canterbury early learning services and schools locked down in response to the Christchurch shooting. 

Fortunately, all children who were at an early learning service or school that day went home safely, but the government commissioned KPMG to conduct a review of the lockdown and highlight areas where our response to such an event could be improved.

KPMG released a report with several key findings and, in terms of parents and care-givers, they found that:

  • ‘There was variability in the quality, clarity and regularity of communication between schools/early learning services and parents/care-givers’

  • There is an opportunity to improve parents’/care-givers’ understanding of, and familiarity with, lockdown policies and procedures’, and

  • ‘A co-constructed lockdown guide for parents/care-givers is appropriate and would be beneficial’. 

The government has taken action and made plenty of recommendations in response to KPMG’s review. Among other things, the Ministry of Education has recommended that early learning services:

  • Have appropriate local policies and procedures in place that recognise the role of parents and whānau in a lockdown event

  • Should ensure there’s adequate communication and training of emergency management procedures and polices to staff and parents/care-givers.

This term, the government is distributing guidance for parents and care-givers to support our understanding of the emergency response systems and processes in our early learning services, and our role in supporting this response. 

Although no parent, child or educator wants to see an emergency play out at their early learning service, forewarned is forearmed, so make sure you’re briefed on key emergency management information by your child’s service and know how to best respond to bad situations.

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