One of the most difficult decisions parents can make is choosing the best childcare for their child. There are a variety of factors to consider ranging from distance to home/work, cost, educational goals and most importantly, safety. When considering safety at a childcare facility, we must account for any potential risks for child abuse. Below is a list of things we can do to help ensure a safe environment for our children.
1. Check out the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website.
The DFPS website contains a search engine that provides information on childcare facilities and their licensing. Any childcare inspections, reports, or violations can be viewed on this site and can be helpful in determining if a particular childcare provider is a safe option.
2. Ask for a copy of code of conduct/ policies.
A strong code of conduct would mention policies on how the staff interact with children. A good safety policy is to prohibit isolated interactions between staff and students. Does the code of conduct give clear guidelines on appropriate physical touch between staff members and children? What is the procedure of addressing safety concerns or boundary violation between children and adults?
In addition to a clear code of conduct, there should be information detailing a discipline policy. If there is no written information available, ask the staff what they do given certain situations. Have staff had training related to managing problematic behavior? The attitude behind how staff view a child’s behavior can help reveal the culture of a childcare facility. What strategies are utilized to help a child manage their emotions versus simply punishing a child for misbehaving?
3. Ask about Background Checks and References.
One of the ways we can gain information on staff at a childcare facility is to see if that agency runs a background check on all faculty annually. Although background checks are not 100% effective in screening, they can be helpful. Reference checks are important because they allow an opportunity for the hiring manager to ask those references if anything about that employee’s history would give them “pause” or concern knowing they may be working with children.
4. Ask about Child Abuse Prevention Trainings.
It is important that a staff are properly trained to recognize, prevent and report child abuse and neglect. All faculty should be trained annually on child abuse prevention. Ask about policies for reporting suspicions of abuse. A good policy states that each adult is responsible for making a report to DFPS or Law Enforcement rather than reporting to their supervisor.
5. Inquire about their bathroom policy.
This is an important rule. We want our young children to have the help they need when it comes to using the restroom, but we also want their privacy intact and their bodies safe. In addition, ask to see the bathrooms and the areas in which they are located. Do the bathroom doors stay opened or closed while a child is using the restroom? Where do diaper changes occur? If a bathroom has multiple stalls, how many children are allowed in the restroom at a time? An organization that has clear policies regarding vulnerable situations is being proactive in protecting children.
6. Request a tour of the facility.
Scan the environment for any possible isolated areas or any physical dangers. Look for things like windows on the doors or inside walls of classrooms that allows for interactions to be observed. Ask if there are video cameras in the classroom to ensure children are protected.
7. Inquire about their naptime policy.
We want to make sure that all situations are safe for children. Ask if they allow children to sleep in their car seats (the answer should be no!). Do they allow children to share sleeping mats, blankets, etc? Do staff actively monitor the classroom during naptime, or do they take breaks during this time? Is a staff member allowed to lay down with a child?
8. Familiarize yourself with their visitation policy.
We want to know that we can come and visit our children, but it is also important for childcare agencies to have strong policies regarding visitation, for the safety of all children. We advocate that anyone coming into a facility is asked to show their identification as well as sign-in and sign-out. What is the policy if maintenance or outside personnel are needed at the facility? Are they monitored at all times? If other parents come inside the classroom to play, have they had a background check? What is the policy on parents inside the classroom?
9. Talk with other parents.
One of the best resources we have, is our relationship to others. Talk to your friends, family members and do a quick Google search to see what people are saying about the childcare agency you are interested in. Use those personal references to help you assess any safety concerns that you may have.
10. Listen to your child.
If your child comes home and indicates that someone at their childcare facility makes them feel uncomfortable, listen to them and ask follow-up questions. If your child indicates they do not want to return to childcare or do not like an adult at the facility, ask them why. There may be an innocuous reason, but may also be more serious. For non-verbal children, be sure to pay close attention to any suspicious injuries or changes in behavior. Educate yourself to recognize signs and symptoms indicative of trauma.
It is our hope that every child has a safe and happy childhood. For information on signs of abuse, prevention education classes or resources on how to talk to your children about abuse, please visit: www.allianceforchildren.org/prevention.
About the Author
Carol Logan is the Community Engagement Supervisor with Alliance For Children. She spends close to 90% of her time in schools located around Tarrant County talking to children about personal body safety, through a program called P.S. It's My Body and Internet safety, through a program called Netsmartz®. When Carol is not at work, she is playing with her dog Bodie and spending time with family.