The reopening of some childcare facilities has been delayed leading to fears that a number of centres could be forced to close their doors permanently.
Some childcare centres were given the green light to reopen next week but were contacted by the Department of Health on Tuesday to say they could not open as planned.
First Minister Arlene Foster said she was “alarmed” by the decision and contacted the health minister Robin Swann on Wednesday.
“Every day is a day lost to the economy of Northern Ireland and is a day lost to childcare providers,” the DUP leader said.
“I think it is very important to realise that you can’t just switch on and off childcare, there will be a situation where parents will have to bring their children and get them used to going back to childcare.
“A lot of children have been at home for a long time with their parents, there will be attachment issues. There will be all of those things that we will have to work through and as a mother of three children myself, I know all of that.
“I know many of the childcare providers are ready and willing to help parents to do that.”
Mrs Foster said that the Department of Health panels will sit later this week to make a decision on when childcare providers can reopen.
We don't know when we can reopen and it's really, really desperate the amount of parents contacting us looking for support ...Lynda Courtney, Kids and Bibs Daycare
She made the comments as she visited a childcare business in Moygashel in Co Tyrone on Wednesday.
Kids and Bibs Daycare owners Lynda and Mark Courtney are one of many childcare providers impacted by the decision.
Ms Courtney, who has been running the facility for more than six years, has more than 130 children registered and had planned to reopen next Monday.
“We don’t know when we can reopen and it’s really, really desperate the amount of parents contacting us looking for support, but we need to open to get them back into work,” she said.
“Parents are being forced into unpaid leave, there’s more and more black market childminding, which have issues over child protection.
“We need to open for staff and their job security. We have already started redundancy procedures with some of our staff and that’s soul destroying.
“We are an amazing team and have very little staff turnover.
“I feel like I am letting them down because the guidelines keep changing and every time we go to the panels something else appears.
“I need to have a cash flow so that when we come back we can actually pay staff.”
Mr Courtney said: “A lot of this is out of our hands. We have no control over whether we can open.
“It’s really stressful for parents who are looking to use our facility.
“Parents contact us every day because they are so desperate to get back to work because they need income.”
Ms Courtney said she may be forced to close the facility if they are not given permission to reopen to children in the coming weeks.
“We can’t pay bills with no income or no grants,” she added.
“It’s just an impossible situation – we always put children and parents here first.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The process of HSC trusts endorsing childcare providers to reopen has been temporarily suspended from 3pm on Monday June 8 until 9am on Thursday June 11.
“This is to ensure that all applications to reopen and subsequent trust decisions are based on the new Department of Health guidance for childcare settings. The guidance was published and circulated to providers on Tuesday June 9.
“As before, trust panel meetings will be taken forward on a virtual basis from 9am on Thursday June 11 to ensure prompt endorsement decisions can be made and communicated to providers.”