BLOG: Childminder Fiona Duncan Kerr’s Experience: How it felt to be contacted by Test and Trace

BLOG: Childminder Fiona Duncan Kerr’s Experience: How it felt to be contacted by Test and Trace
It’s the call no childminder wants to receive – Test and Trace on the line to tell you a minded child has tested positive for COVID-19.  Fiona Duncan Kerr, a childminder in Scottish Borders, describes her experience of being contact-traced, the additional costs and pressures of childminding during the pandemic, and how her increased cleaning measures and strict compliance with guidance have potentially saved many others becoming affected by COVID-19. 

As a funded Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) partner provider with the local authority, Fiona cares for a mixture of two, three and, four-year-old children, as well as providing private care, from babies to after school children.

Fiona has been a childminder for 11 years and is very experienced in juggling her home to accommodate family life as well as serve her business; however, working through the pandemic has meant that organisation and cleaning schedules have moved to previously unimaginable levels.  She was extremely thankful that she has adhered strictly to every piece of guidance issued by Scottish Government when she was contact traced.

 “I was called mid-morning on the Friday by Test and Trace, to say that a child I’d had in my setting on the previous Monday had become symptomatic and been tested for COVID-19 on the Thursday, and that the test had just come back positive. I was told to self-isolate immediately, which meant that I could not pick up my nursery child, I could not have my after-school children, and I also had to arrange immediate collection of the children who were with me. 

“There’s a lot of pressure to act quickly. I needed to urgently report the incidence to the Care Inspectorate, and to the local authority’s COVID-19 team. We were advised that settings had to protect confidentiality and the flowchart we have from our local authority clearly states that emergency planning will handle the communication messages, but I knew that to keep children safe I had to immediately alert the parents, so I just started making calls, without giving anything specific, just letting parents know that I’d been contact-traced and that they had to collect their children from me, and that I couldn’t pick up anyone from nursery or school.”

Government guidance for adults to wear masks at drop-off and pick-up had started on the same day the child who had tested positive had been in Fiona’s setting. 

She said: “It had felt a bit ridiculous to be standing on my doorstep in a mask on that Monday, but I was so glad I did this.  Because the child had not been symptomatic, I’d worked after having them, from Tuesday to Friday. That's the problem. If I’d actually caught COVID-19 I would have put so many other children and parents at risk just doing my job. 

“The saving grace was that I have three bubbles – one on Monday, one Tuesday to Thursday, and one Friday, and I quarantine or clean toys after each bubble, and deep clean the house every night. So with a mask on, and cleaning routine in place I was reasonably confident it wouldn’t have spread through all of the children, but you just never know; because of my rigorous cleaning schedule, contact tracing only needed to take details of children present on Monday as they judged the risk to others was minimal.”

Once Fiona had contacted parents, she began the process of informing officials. She contacted the emergency planning team at the local authority and the Care Inspectorate as well as Health Protection. She’s hoping that speaking about her experience will improve the process for others.

Fiona worked through Scotland’s lockdown from spring, providing critical childcare to keyworker and vulnerable children. She keeps a diary where she records everything she has done in a day. She said: “Pre-COVID-19 it would just say things like ‘café snack’, but now it says exactly where we went and the times we were there – everything is in there, everywhere I’ve been and who I’ve been with, both work and personal. 

“If you do test positive, Test and Protect want to know exactly where you’ve been, and who you’ve been with for the previous 14 days, so recording it all in one place means it’s all there – for me, or for someone else to look at if the worst happened and I ended up in hospital. So, I always have that in mind when I’m making choices. Everything I do, both workwise and personally, I do with a clear conscience.”

Since her experience of being contact-traced, Fiona has printed out a sheet for her husband, containing not just the children’s details, but phone numbers for the Care Inspectorate, SCMA, and both the school and nursery which she picks up from.  

Fiona’s experience is proof that spread of the virus is not inevitable. There has been no infection to anyone from her setting, even though the family and the children all use the same bathroom.

She said: “On the day it happened we’d been mostly outside, so I’m sure that helped. I have just one family bathroom which both we and the minded children use but since COVID-19 I’ve removed everything – bathmat, family towels etc. and all of our towels are kept in our own rooms and we all - family and children - use ‘single-use hand towels’ and flannels are put into a washing basket after one use to dry hands. I boil wash these every day. I am very, very grateful that's how I’ve been working because it has potentially saved me, ten parents and eight other children, plus my own family a lot of distress!”

However, the increased cleaning measures do not come without financial implications. Fiona said: “It's hard enough to make a living as a childminder at the best of times, but my electricity bill is up nearly £50 per month on this time last year due to all the washing! My machine is on four times a day just now with single use hand towels, buggy liners, bedding, dress up, dolls’ clothes, cushion covers. It’s my choice to have these things available, but that's the service I want to provide for the children - I don’t want to strip everything back to a clinical environment.”

“My average weekly grocery shop (food, cleaning, loo rolls etc) has increased from £86 per week (April to October 2019) to £104 per week (April to November 2020). This is because of additional cleaning products but also due to supermarket own brands being out of stock and having to spend extra on big brands just to get the basic supplies like beans, bread, flour, eggs etc. So, at a time of uncertainty for the future of my business when my income has suffered, I am paying out at least £122 per month more due to the pandemic.”

The additional cleaning and washing have also added long hours to Fiona’s working days but she said it’s worth it all to keep everyone safe, and urged other childminders to keep going.

“We do it because we see the difference it makes to children and families – if we weren’t here, providing the service, some people, including key workers, literally could not do their jobs.  Being contact-traced has really brought home to me how important it is that we all keep sticking to the rules, whatever tier we’re in. This has really made all those hours of cleaning worthwhile. 

Fiona’s dedication to thinking about the safety of her mindees and their families knows no bounds – to support her bug reducing ‘no shoes in the setting’ policy  while keeping toes warm and cosy, she’s crocheted every child their own pair of colour slippers to match their personal crockery.  

“Please look after yourselves and your own families; keep cleaning and wear a mask! It feels ridiculous, but in my case it may just have saved a lot of unnecessary spread.”

Fiona will be joining the panel at the upcoming Scottish Government webinars for childminders to help provide specific feedback about her experience of being contacted by Test and Trace and childminding during the pandemic.   

Useful Resources 
Childminding Services Guidance
Steps to Re-Opening and Risk Assessment Support