Covid-19: Closures Hit Nurseries, Parents Hard

Nurseries across the UAE have closed their doors to children today. The closures comes after regulators (the MOE in Dubai, ADEK in Abu Dhabi and SPEA in Sharjah) announced the measure in an email to nursery managers yesterday afternoon. The closures are one of a series of nationwide, preventative measures to control the spread of Covid-19.
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Nursery Mangers have reacted with alarm after being compelled to close their doors to children today. It remains unclear when nurseries will be allowed to open again.

For clarity, this directive does not apply to KHDA licensed Early Learning Centres, who are a unique category of early years setting and follow the same guidelines as schools.

The closures present a series of challenges for nurseries. The first and most emotive, has undoubtedly been addressing the complaints and frustrations of working parents, many of whom have been left unable to work due to a lack of childcare.

“We know how very difficult this is for our working parents” said one Nursery Manager. “We have received numerous phone calls and heart felt complaints. People are stressed and feeling the pressure from their own employers, of course! But these are challenging times for society as a whole. We cannot open if our regulators say we are to close. We acutely feel the challenges our families face, but that is a simple fact”.

The financial implications for nurseries are immediate. In Dubai, MOE licensed nurseries must offer parents monthly payment plans, a move that was designed to help parents spread the cost of childcare. With the closures coming from 1st March, many nurseries expect that parents will be reluctant to pay for a facility which is closed for an undefined period of time. This may quickly impact individual nurseries own ability to manage their overheads.

Despite only one day of closures so far, many parents have already begun to approach their nursery for refunds of fees paid.  We understand that nurseries will not be obliged to refund, but many will try to support their parents in other ways.  One nursery in Business Bay already plans to offer the weeks 'back' as spring or summer camps.  

Should the situation continue, there may well be a secondary financial hit for nurseries as we are currently in a challenging period for enrolments of new nursery children. Unlike schools (which typically enrol the majority of students from September), nurseries see a more consistent, year round pattern of enrolments. How this will play out is something we are yet to see.

Ms Hala Adel, Director of Future International Nursery, is concerned for the reputation of the nursery industry, especially given the perceived lack of consistency between Early Years settings with MOE/ADEK/SPEA licenses versus those with a KHDA license.  Ms Adel had this to say;

"The capacity of nurseries in terms of real estate is much smaller than larger schools. As a nursery, we take measures that you do not find implemented in schools: for example, we take children’s temperature on a daily basis, and at times even several times per day; we disinfect toys and surfaces on a daily basis and for some surfaces, several times daily.
In Dubai, some early years facilities are being allowed to remain open. This is affecting us negatively., How can we explain this to our parents? We are very concerned that parents will have no resort but move their children to KHDA early years institutions instead".

Despite these challenges, Lisa Sherrington Boyd, Principal at Kangaroo Kids Nursery in Al Safa is taking a balanced view of the closure of her nursery.

“When I entered into a career in Education, I took an oath to put children at the heart of everything I do. I see this situation as an extension of that. Yes it’s challenging for us, but I understand why the decision was taken.
What I do worry about is what the alternatives are to nurseries for working parents. People cannot simply stop going to work. I’m worried that there will be more children in parks and public play areas – are they more hygienic than a nursery? At Kangaroo Kids Nursery, we have already employed extra housekeeping staff, purely focussed on disinfecting surfaces and equipment. We employ 6 nurses and we have a doctor visit twice a week, and last week we spent a whole week focussed on teaching children proper handwashing techniques! I’m not sure that the alternatives are a better option.

My team and I will use the time productively to ensure that when we do reopen, we have new procedures in place, new systems and lots of exciting new activities ready for the children. Challenges are part of life and we intend to role model a positive outlook!”

These are unprecedented times for society, individuals and organisations.  Good quality, flexible child care is one of the cornerstones of an ambitious economy.  We at hope to see nurseries back in action as soon as it is considered safe to do so.

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