Thousands of children suffer injuries in day care homes and facilities across the United States every year. Although some of these injuries are simple bumps, bruises or scrapes that require simple first aid or no follow-up care at all, others are so severe that victims require emergency medical intervention. In some situations, these young children lose their lives. To help protect children from the dangers that might be lurking in child care settings, parents and caregivers should familiarize themselves with common safety concerns and how to address them.
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Common Safety Concerns in Daycare Settings
There are a number of factors that parents and caregivers should consider to help ensure that children are as safe as possible in their daycare setting. Some of the biggest concerns include:
- Supervision: The lack of adequate supervision by competent adults can pose a significant threat to the safety of children. In Illinois, acceptable caregiver-to-child ratios are very specific. For children who are 14 months old or younger, for example, the ratio is one caregiver for every four children. As children grown older, the ratio changes and by the time a child reaches kindergarten age, a single provider can watch as many as 20 children. Even with ratio compliance, however, it is important to evaluate the interaction that staff members have with the children to ensure they are being adequately supervised.
- Basic Medical Training: Accidents can and often do happen in daycare settings. When correct first aid and CPR techniques are not performed, however, these incidents can lead to serious consequences or even fatality. It is essential that caregivers are sufficiently trained to effectively respond when emergencies happen. Illinois requires that a caregiver who is certified in the Heimlich maneuver, first aid and CPR be present at all times. In facilities where infants and newborns are cared for, all staff members must be trained about Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and safe sleep recommendations. When evaluating a daycare facility, parents should request to view copies of certifications and additional training.
- Medications and Chemicals: Accidental poisoning is one of the leading causes of serious injury and fatality among young children in the United States. Medications, cleaning supplies and other household chemicals should be kept in locked, childproof containers or cabinets. Additionally, when medications must be administered it is essential that caregivers have written authorization and instructions from a parent regarding proper dosage. Medications and other hazardous chemicals should always be stored in their original containers and away from food or drink products.
- CPSC Hazards: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) continuously tests products and recalls those that are found to be unsafe. Parents and caregivers alike should stay updated on product recalls and be sure these products are not being used. Additionally, the CPSC responds to customer complaints and even maintains a playground safety checklist to help ensure that children are safe in daycares, schools and at home. According to the CPSC, approximately two-thirds of licensed child care settings that were studied had at least one targeted hazard. In 1999, Illinois enacted the Children’s Product Safety Act (CPSA), which prohibits the use of recalled products in daycare facilities.
- Background Checks: In Illinois, caregivers are subject to background checks to reveal any record of child abuse, neglect, or other criminal convictions. While this law is designed to ensure that children in daycare settings are not exposed to dangerous individuals, it is not bulletproof because not every incident leads to a conviction or even a report. Therefore parents should familiarize themselves with the signs of possible abuse or neglect and report any concerns to the authorities. Possible signs to watch for include unexplained or frequent injuries, a child’s fear of going to daycare, sudden aggression displayed by the child, and changes in toilet training habits.
- Open Door Policy: Parents should be allowed, and even encouraged to observe their children’s daycare setting both before and after enrollment. Many modern daycare facilities even offer online, live access to a secure portal so they can observe their child throughout the day. When a provider is hesitant or refuses to allow a parent access to the daycare setting during operating hours, it should send a red flag to parents. During an observation of the home or facility, parents should be aware of the way staff members interact with children, discuss emergency plans and procedures, watch for signs of potential hazards, and ask lots of questions about disciplinary procedures, staff training, and any other concerns. Many parents may also find it comforting to speak with other children’s parents and ask for references from former clients.
More than 500,000 Illinois children under five years old attend some type of daycare. It is hoped that by increasing public awareness about the common safety concerns encountered in daycare facilities, each and every one of these children will be safe from harm.