Preventing child abuse and neglect is an important concern of all child care providers. Statistics show that the majority of abusers are parents, although the public perception is that abuse in child care centers is common. This false perception creates a very real challenge for child care providers. Child care providers need to be sure to provide a safe environment for the children in their care in order to reduce the risk of abuse and neglect in the child care setting.
There are many things child care providers and program administrators can do to prevent abuse and protect themselves from false allegations. Taking steps to eliminate situations where abuse might occur is well worth the time it takes. Reviewing program policies, hiring procedures and play areas with this in mind can help eliminate potential problems. Educating staff and volunteers about child abuse is a critical part of creating a safe environment for adults and children. A little bit of time and thought can create safety zones for staff and children alike.
The following guidelines may help keep children safe and reduce the risk of abuse and neglect in the child care setting.
- Require criminal background checks for all staff members and volunteers before they work directly with any child. Check at least two references before hiring a volunteer or staff person.
- Require all child care providers to meet minimum qualifications, including experience working with children and education related to child development.
- Maintain appropriate child-to-staff ratios and small group sizes.
- Do not allow any staff member to be alone with one child out of view of other adults and children.
- Encourage parents to join in your activities and to drop into the center whenever they can.
Staff Behavior Expectations
Make sure all staff members and volunteers understand appropriate and inappropriate ways to interact with children. The following are some basic behavior guidelines for child care providers:
- Never hit or strike a child - even in so-called play.
- Do not use physical punishment of any kind.
- Always have at least two adults present when children are in the program. Avoid being alone with one child. This prevents allegations of abuse and ensures children's safety in case of an emergency.
- Hugs are okay if they are appropriate, as long as the child and the child care provider are both comfortable. Take clues from the body language of the child, or simply ask, "Is it okay for me to hug you?" If you do not feel comfortable with a hug from a child, tell her in a gentle way and suggest an alternative, such as holding your hand or touching your shoulder or arm.
- Respect children's personal boundaries. Remember that some people like being close and getting hugs, but others don't like a lot of close contact with other people. Sometimes we forget that children have these preferences, too.
- Provide ongoing training for staff to learn current information about the care, development and guidance of children and about child abuse issues.
Design of Child Care Spaces
- Set up your child care space to make it easy to supervise all of the children at once.
- Design play and other areas so that children can be viewed at all times.
- Include some quiet areas for children but be sure those areas can be seen by staff.
- Allow some privacy in the bathroom if children request it but supervise bathroom time closely. You may want to have a policy stating that only one child uses the bathroom at a time.
Special Consideration for Infants and Toddlers
Infants and toddlers are at an especially high risk of being abused or neglected, partly because they cannot tell someone about the abuse. Child care providers need to be especially sensitive to the needs of infants and toddlers by developing policies to keep them safe from abuse and neglect.
- Train the staff to work with infants and toddlers. For example, prepare your staff for infants who cry a lot. Let staff know that it may not always be possible to determine why an infant is crying. Staff can try feeding, changing, rocking, holding or walking with a crying infant.
- Build in policies to handle infant crying. Trying to soothe a crying infant for a long time can be frustrating and may lead to stressed child care providers acting in ways that are not positive. Infant caregivers should consider taking turns trying to calm a crying infant in order to manage everyone's stress level.
- Help staff learn how to handle toddler behavior. Toddlers can be very stubborn and demanding. Knowing what is typical toddler behavior makes caring for the child much more positive and less stressful. For example, tantrums are normal for toddlers. Teach toddler caregivers to ignore tantrums if no one is getting hurt.
- Schedule regular breaks for infant and toddler caregivers. Care of infants and toddlers is extremely tiring and can be very stressful. Be sure to build in regular breaks and substitute caregivers, especially for the infant and toddler groups. If you are a family child care provider, find others who can care for the children for a short period of time each day to give you a few minutes to relax.
For More Information
To learn more about preventing, recognizing, and handling child abuse and neglect in child care settings, visit the Child Abuse and Neglect section, or check out the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: