Owning and operating a child care business, such as a daycare center or preschool program, can be a fulfilling experience. What’s more, studies suggest an increasing number of parents are working full time, creating opportunities for industry growth.
However, with a higher number of families utilizing these services, it’s more important than ever that child care providers understand the risks and challenges associated with their business.
When operating a child care facility, safety is of the utmost concern. Inadequate policies or a single lapse in oversight can lead to serious injuries or even lawsuits.
To ensure you are doing the most to protect those in your care, it’s important to understand some common safety concerns and how to address them:
- Lack of supervision—Children in your care need to be watched closely at all times. Just one momentary distraction can result in an accident. To help prevent incidents and to ensure children are appropriately supervised, keep a low child-to-adult ratio. Experts suggest caregiver-to-child ratios should be at least 1:3 for infants and young toddlers, 1:6 for older toddlers, and 1:9 for preschool-aged kids. Be sure to follow any state or local laws related to caregiver-to-child ratios.
- Improper medication use—It may seem unlikely, but children can be accidentally poisoned quite easily if prescribed medications are administered improperly. To help prevent this, instruct parents to give their children medications at home whenever possible. If this is not possible, medications should be provided to your staff members in their original containers along with specific instructions. Staff members will also need to be trained on proper medication handling and storage. You should also have written parental authorization when it comes to administering medicine.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants between 1 month and 1 year of age. SIDS is generally the diagnosis given for the sudden death of children in this age group and has no known cause. However, there are a number of precautions you can take to ensure the safety of infants in your care:
- Put babies to sleep on their backs.
- Never place bumper pads, fluffy blankets, or toys in cribs.
- Avoid soft bedding.
- The presence of toxic substances—Accidental poisoning is a leading cause of death among children. As a child care facility, it is likely you will have harsh chemical cleaners, medicines, and other potentially hazardous substances on-site. To safeguard children, it’s important to store these substances in locked, childproof cabinets. In addition, to prevent accidental poisoning, you should never store food and cleaning supplies in the same area.
- Unsafe toys or equipment—Just because a product is made for children does not mean that it is safe. In fact, even when manufacturers test their products, safety issues can be easily overlooked, compounding injury risks for child care providers. To keep children safe:
- Discard damaged toys. Inspect toys on a regular basis to ensure they are safe for children in your care.
- Understand the intended use of toys and equipment you make available to children. Prevent children from using toys and equipment in an unsafe manner.
- Stay up to date on toy and product recalls.
- Keep play areas for younger and older children separate. This is particularly important when you consider that many toys are only appropriate for older age groups.
- Ensure play areas are free of tripping and choking hazards.
- Keep playground surfaces and equipment in good condition.
- Poor food safety—For child care providers, there are a variety of risks associated with food. For one, children are prone to choking and will need to be monitored during designated snack times. What’s more, foodborne illnesses can affect multiple children at once, making food safety all the more important. Instruct your staff to keep cooking surfaces, equipment, and utensils clean to avoid cross-contamination. In addition, food should be properly cooked, cut appropriately, and allowed to cool before serving. It’s also important to be aware of any food allergies. Consider documenting these allergies so staff members can easily identify what foods are safe for each child in your care.
Maintaining a Clean and Healthy Facility
Ensuring the health of children and staff members alike can be a challenge for child care businesses. This is especially true when you consider that small child are vulnerable to a variety of illnesses and often carry germs that are easily spread to others.
All it takes is one illness to infect all the children in your care as well as your staff. When this happens, not only can you experience staff shortages, but your child care facility can suffer serious reputational damage as well. As such, it’s important to be proactive when it comes to protecting against contagious illnesses. The following are some tips to keep in mind:
- Clean play areas daily, making sure to thoroughly sanitize all surfaces and toys.
- Create and communicate a strict sick child policy. This policy should specify when children should stay home and procedures you will follow should a child get sick in your care.
- Ensure staff members and children wash their hands regularly.
Hiring qualified and trustworthy staff members are critical to ensuring children receive the appropriate care. What’s more, poor employment practices can lead to safety hazards and affect your business’s bottom line.
As such, child care facilities should be appropriately staffed. For added safety, and to avoid potential employee-related claims, consider doing the following:
- Screen all of your employees, performing a detailed background check.
- Ensure staff members are at least 18 years old.
- Train staff members on child safety. Consider enrolling them in child-development-related courses to further their education and learn new child care skills. In addition, staff members should be trained on pediatric CPR and first aid.
- Create a reporting procedure for your staff members to follow should they suspect abuse, whether that abuse occurs in or outside of your facility.
- Have at least two adults per group of children in your care.
- Hire enough staff to ensure children get the most one-on-one care possible. This can also protect you in the event that multiple staff members can’t come to work.
As a child care provider, you must ensure children behave in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the safety of others in your care. However, this is easier said than done, and you must navigate potential disciplinary issues carefully. Just one poorly handled incident can lead to negative publicity or even costly litigation.
To ensure behavior issues are addressed appropriately, your facility should have a clear disciplinary policy. This policy should set expectations, account for appropriate disciplinary actions in a variety of scenarios, and be communicated to parents. It’s also a good idea to keep a record of behavior issues and inform parents of recurring issues.