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Keeping Kids Safe: Establishing Child Care Safety Standards for Your Center and Your Staff

Every morning millions of parents across the country safely buckle their children in car seats and head off to child care.  They expect that the center is receiving regular child care safety inspections, that the providers have successfully passed background checks, are well trained, and that the children in their care remain safe.  As a child care provider, you can implement safety procedures so that each child is being taken care of in a safe and thriving environment.

Child care safety standards before you open your center

One of the first things an individual or organization does when they decide to operate a child care center is to contact their state licensing agency.  Child care licensing standards set the minimum acceptable health, safety and program standards for the legal operation of child care programs.  It is not an indicator of quality care.  Child care licensing regulations, sometimes known as regulated child care, are set by each state.

Most child care licensing regulations cover the following topics:Child care safety standards - Sparky and children

  • Fire safety and fire drills
  • Group sizes – maximum number of children allowed in a group/class. This number depends on the age(s) of the children.
  • Health and safety – including immunizations, guidance and discipline policies, diapering, hand-washing, administration of medications, reporting accidents and illness, preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), storage of hazardous materials, playground safety, and emergency preparedness plans
  • Lighting, heating/air conditioning, exits and fire doors, construction materials and fencing
  • Minimum education requirements and ongoing training requirements for providers
  • Nutrition and food preparation
  • Parent involvement, communication with parents and parental access to programs when their children are present
  • Physical space – number of square feet needed per child for both indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Record keeping
  • Required activities for children
  • Required background checks
  • Sanitation – proper sanitizing or disinfecting of toileting areas, food preparation areas, play equipment, carpeting and floor areas and adequate ventilation
  • Adult to child ratios – the minimum number of adults required for a specific number of children. The number depends on the age of the children.

According to March 2014 article published in the Journal of Child Care Health, injuries are the main cause of death and disability among children in the United States. Ten percent of those injuries in young children (preschool, ages 0-5) happens in the early care and education setting.

Injuries are NOT accidents, as that implies or suggests that they occur randomly and could not be prevented. But we know that is not true, because we know that most common injuries among children are preventable and predictable.

When Congress passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014, (CCDBG) it included new health and safety requirements for child care providers receiving funds from CCDBG.  The changes were made to best support the health and safety of children in child care as well as their parents and child care providers.  The rule specifies certain health topics for which child care providers must receive training.  Each state determines what trainings will meet their health and safety standards.  These protections can help ensure that parents are able to choose among child care providers who provide safe, high-quality child care.

New health and safety training topics for child care providers

New federal requirements have named eleven health and safety training topics that will be required for child care providers.  Although some child care centers may not receive child care assistance funds (subsidy payments), these training topics are important for all centers and adults who wish to care for children.  Child Care Aware’s Health and Safety Training page provides additional information about these requirements and assistance in finding local agencies that provide this training.  The required topics are:

  1. Pediatric First Aid and CPR
  2. Prevention and control of infectious diseases (including immunizations)
  3. Safe sleep practices and Prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  4. Prevention of Shaken Baby Syndrome, abusive head trauma, and child maltreatment
  5. Recognition and prevention of child abuse and neglect
  6. Medication administration
  7. Prevention and response to emergencies due to food allergic reactions
  8. Emergency preparedness and response for natural disasters or man-caused events
  9. Handling, storage and disposal of hazardous materials
  10. Indoor and outdoor safety (identifying and protecting children from hazards, bodies of water, traffic, etc.)
  11. Safety measures in transporting children (if applicable)

Providers should not care for children unsupervised until they have completed training in pediatric first aid and CPR; safe sleep practices, including risk reduction of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome/Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SIDS/SUID); standard precautions for the prevention of communicable disease; poison prevention; and shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma.

One of the biggest concerns child care directors and administrators face is the safety of the children in their care.  You are taking care of the most precious thing in the lives of your clients: their children. You are responsible for the health and safety of those children, many of whom may be toddlers, for hours every day.

Caring for Our Children Basics was developed by child development, health, and safety experts working in and outside of government, with leadership from the Office of Child Care, Office of Head Start, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development, and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau/Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Evaluating your child care center for health and safety standards

This program review tool lists the minimum health and safety standards for child care settings outside of the home. It covers 8 practical content areas from “Caring for Our Children Basics.”

Use the tool to:

  • Assess your current health and safety practices
  • Identify where practices should be stronger
  • Develop strategies and plans for professional development

Child care centers are encouraged to use this program review tool to conduct a self-assessment of their facilities.  It can help identify strengths, weaknesses, and ways to improve health and safety practices to provide the foundation on which to build a quality child care environment.  This comprehensive monitoring can help ensure that children can learn, play, and grow in settings that are safe and secure.