Healthy Families South Auckland have been supporting Early Childhood Education (ECE) Teachers via Zoom (online video platform) during Alert Levels 4 and 3. With the unexpected and uncertain nature of lockdown raising more pressing issues for families at early childhood centres, the design challenges that teachers have recently undertaken have taken a backseat during this time.
It is an unprecedented time, not just for Early Childhood Education Centres in South Auckland but for their families.
When the Government moved the country into Alert Level 4 effective 11.59pm 17 August 2021, ECE centres across Auckland immediately shut their doors, and families began the lockdown with the hopes of returning to jobs and schools in a week, two or three tops.
However while the rest of the country came out of lockdown in varying degrees- Auckland has not been below Alert Level 3 for over two months now.
Centre Manager for the Pacific Early Learning Community Centre in Manurewa, Inano Lotulelei expressed that although they were able to connect with their families during lockdown they suspect some families needed more support but were too shy to ask.
“We feel as a team that families are a bit shy to reach out, conversations that I’m having with them are not getting past ‘we’re okay in our bubble’,” she explained.
“A lot of them are proud,” agreed teacher Mahale Filipo, “but you can tell that they do need that little bit more of support than they’re saying.
“We can support but they’re not forthcoming with letting us know that they need the help.”
Family care has taken a front seat as centres, with the support of HFSA, went about ascertaining the biggest needs for families during this time.
They found that even as Auckland’s restrictions eased into Alert Level 3, this time around it was a lot harder on families than the lockdowns in 2020.
“Last level 3 lockdown, when we had to open, we were trying to get our parents to bring their children in but no one responded to our calls and messages so I don’t know maybe this time around is much more difficult financially.”
Three of the four centres have reopened following the announcement of Alert Level 3: Step 1. And eagerly await the move to the new traffic light system to replace the alert level framework once the country hits 90 per cent vaccination rates in every region.
Through it all Healthy Families South Auckland have stayed in contact with their ECEs, either with weekly zooms or phone calls and texts between System Innovators and Centre Employees.
Systems Innovator Andy Piutau says Counties Manukau Kindergarten Association Wiri who have about 23-25 families were calling families to check in and seven families were looking to go back into the centre the week of Alert Level 3: Stage 1.
“Some families are still concerned about COVID being in the community,” Andy informs, “but through our One Love initiative we were able to source them masks and Prezzy vouchers for their families which the centre can hand out to parents.
“The centre reports seeing a drop in engagement, but the staff and families are keen for the kids to come back.”
It hasn’t been the same experience across the board for our ECE centres and families, this time around it has been more uncertain for some than for others, and not all ECE have been able to attain the full wage subsidy making the period even harder for employees- like East Tamaki who did not receive the wage subsidy during the last lockdown early in the year.
Lead Systems Innovator Fila Fuamatu was able to support the East Tamaki ECE.
“We sent out a care package using the covid response funds to give Prezzy vouchers to the teachers as they are only receiving 80% pay, we discovered that teachers were considering alternative employment options given the uncertainty of not knowing how long this lockdown would last and were feeling unsure as to whether they would return to the Centre ” Fila says.
“This was a huge worry for the management team as they could lose staff who might need to resort to this.”
However the Prezzy cards were a significant help, with the hope that with a happier staff- their attentions can turn towards their families and transitioning back into the classroom once restrictions ease.
“And creating an environment where their families’ children will feel safe to learn.”