What statutory regulations do we need to comply with?
‘Actually, there are three principles that are legally required for our childcare. These are the staff-child ratio, the regular faces criterion and the four-eye principle. We adhere to these principles when we produce the schedules.’
What is the staff-child ratio, exactly?
‘The staff-child ratio is about how many qualified staff you need for the number of children you have. These numbers differ per age and are set by law. A few examples:
- Baby group: one employee for every three babies (under age one);
- Infant group: two employees for every eleven children (with at least one child aged two, otherwise we need three employees);
- Toddler and toddler plus group: two employees for sixteen children.
Sometimes you need a lower number of children in a group if the number of square metres of that group is too low, despite having enough staff. So, legally, the floor area/space also counts here.
If a second-year or higher year intern has a zero-hours contract or has a good performance record and enough credits, they may be deployed during official holidays or in incidental situations when an employee i sick. But they can’t be deployed in the event of long-term sickness absence.’
And the familiar faces criterion?
‘For reasons of stability and familiarity, each child may only see a certain number of faces in their group. This is better for a child’s emotional security. Here too, different rules apply for children of different ages. A staff member who normally works in the toddler group can’t simply be placed in the baby group. We can only do this if there’s already a regular staff member present in the group that the children know: the ‘familiar face’. If a flex worker has been working alongside a permanent employee in a group for several consecutive weeks (at least three), the flex worker also becomes a familiar face and may also be deployed in that group.
The regulations were relaxed somewhat on 1 July. During holidays or sickness absence, there’s more scope to customise deployment regarding familiar faces, or someone can become a temporary familiar face. For babies, though, we’re very strict: a familiar face is a must. We anticipate this by identifying early on where bottlenecks may arise. We then have a staff member from another group work in the baby group, so that this person becomes a familiar face who can then be deployed in the group during holidays or other challenging weeks. The location’s policy plan (in the ParentApp or on the Parent Portal) describes all changes and regulations.’
Tell us more about the four-eye principle?
‘This concerns our employees always having “visibility” of each other so we know what everyone is doing and what’s happening. It means that one adult must always be able to observe what a childcare staff member is doing or listen in on what they’re saying. This is also why our locations are very spacious and have lots of glass so you can see each other clearly from different sides. A location manager and a deputy manager (if they’re at the office) can also be included for the four-eye principle, as can housekeeping staff and the childcare expert. They move around the building all day so there’s always someone who can watch or listen to what’s happening in the building.
What principles does Kindergarden adhere to itself, on top of the statutory rules?
‘Quality and stability are extremely important for us. We want to offer responsible childcare. So although an employee who has just started in a group counts as a ‘familiar face’, the children won’t know that employee well yet. So we take that into account in the scheduling. Or if we notice that a group needs extra support that a self-employed worker cannot provide, we make sure that quality comes first for the children. And we adhere strictly to the staff-child ratio and the familiar face criterion.’
Which solutions are available to you to solve the scheduling puzzle?
‘I first look for solutions within my own location. Are there enough familiar faces for all children? We can then allocate children and staff in a different way. Children from the baby group already regularly join an infant group on a part-time basis.
For instance, if there are four children in the baby group, with two employees, and a one-year-old child in that baby group can cope and there is space, we may place that child in the already familiar infant group for a day. The baby group then only has three children in it and we only need one employee for that. The second baby group employee can then help in another group.
We can also sometimes combine groups so we don’t need as many childcare staff, but if the groups are bigger that’s almost never an option. There’s sometimes more space for combining two baby groups during the holidays. But we can only do this with consent of all parents. And there must always be a familiar face for all children, as that criterion always applies.
Another option is to ask employees whether they want to work extra hours. Sometimes an intern will be present who can be used in the event of sickness absence. Or we can deploy a self-employed person. If that’s not possible, I ask the sub-region for help. It’s possible that an employee from another location in our sub-region can help out. The roster coordinator also considers all the options in case there’s something we’ve overlooked. Sometimes if a child is registered with two locations, we can consult each other as location managers to see whether there’s any space at the other location that day.
What if you can’t solve the puzzle. What happens then?
‘In extreme cases, we can’t solve the puzzle, for example when someone calls in sick. We then need to call parents to inform them that a group is having to close partly or completely, and that they’ll have to collect their child. As we try everything we can first thing in the morning within the sub-region to keep the groups open, sometimes a child may already be present at the childcare and the parents are already at work. That’s really annoying both for us and the parents, and as that’s something we understand only too well, we do everything we can to avoid having to close.
We try to be fair regarding which children need to be collected. If certain children have already been collected at some point due to a partial closure, at a subsequent partial closure it will be another child’s turn. However, if a child also has a sibling at the childcare and there has already been a partial closure there too, we try to take that into account in our choice as well.
The first time is always difficult: you need to make a choice and nobody will be happy with it. And we try to offer an alternative if we’ve already noticed a scheduling challenge in advance. We can then call parents in advance to see whether they can switch days.’
And help from other sources?
‘We’re sometimes asked whether a member of the housekeeping staff can help out, or parents offer to help out themselves at the group so it doesn’t need to close. We really appreciate this as it’s incredibly kind. However, we have to comply with the statutory regulations and are simply not allowed to do this. The checks on this are particularly strict, which is a good thing.’