- Distinguish between child abuse or neglect and poor care-giving practices (violations of policy).
- List the policies and procedures in your program that prevent child abuse and neglect.
Most of us become child development professionals because we love working with young children. It is difficult imagining anyone in our profession intentionally harming a child. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect has occurred in child care and other youth-serving organizations. Your program has policies in place that help protect you and protect children. This lesson will help you learn about these policies.
Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect in Family Child Care Settings
Your family child care program should have policies and procedures in place to prevent child abuse and neglect. Some of these policies are mandated by state licensing laws for child care providers or by service mandated policies and procedures. Here is an overview of ways your program prevents child abuse and neglect:
Screening and Background Checks
All family child care providers and their household members are carefully screened before children can be cared for in their home. Background checks are conducted and records are maintained.
Maximum Group Size and Accountability
Your program follows standards for high-quality early care and education settings. Guidelines for group sizes and adequate adult supervision minimize the risk of child abuse and neglect. You will learn more about adult-child ratios and maximum group size in the Safe Environments course.
Adult-child ratios have two parts: (a) the number of children per provider and (b) the maximum number of children allowed in a family child care home. As discussed in the Safety course, these ratios may vary by state, but in general a safe ratio for a small family child care home (with one provider) is no more than six children, including the provider's own children under the age of 8 years, with no more than two of these children being under the age of 2 or in need of significant assistance (i.e., with significant developmental, physical, or behavioral needs).
Guidance and Discipline Policy
Your family child care program should have a guidance and discipline policy that represents best practices in the field. In the Explore section of this lesson, you will work with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator to get example copies of guidance and discipline policies from other exemplary family child care programs to construct what is best for your family child care home. Your policy statement should describe acceptable and unacceptable forms of guidance and discipline in your program. It should be part of the handbook you share with families and any back-up providers who help you.
For young children, guidance should be based on relationships. You help children learn positive skills and ways to interact. Here are a few examples of acceptable and unacceptable practices:
Acceptable Guidance and Discipline Practices
Unacceptable Guidance and Discipline Practices
Your family child care program should also have a policy regarding acceptable forms of touch. Make sure that all those who work with you in caring for children (including back-up providers) know and follow the policy. Touch is healthy and necessary as part of a nurturing relationship. Touch can help children and youth feel emotionally secure. A pat on the back or a friendly hug can make a child feel welcome and encouraged. Sometimes touch is necessary. For example, you may need to lift a child down from playground equipment. However, some touch can be dangerous. Touch can make a child vulnerable to maltreatment, and it can place you at risk of false allegations. Touch should be:
- Respectful of privacy and personal space
- Reassuring and nurturing
- Paired with calm and respectful language and tone of voice
It is a good idea to ask permission before touching a child (“Can I move your fingers to help you play that guitar chord?”). You should also describe what you are doing (“I’m going to hold your hand to help you calm down”). Read the table below for examples of appropriate and inappropriate forms of touch between adults and children.
Touch that is Appropriate
Touch that is Inappropriate
Child Accountability and Supervision: Admission and Release
Your family child care program should have standard operating procedures for the admission and release of children. Children should only be released to:
- Parents or legal guardians
- Individuals the parents or legal guardians have authorized in writing
- In emergencies, legally authorized individuals such as emergency medical responders, police, or child welfare workers
Unknown individuals who arrive to pick up a child should be asked for photo identification and you should verify that the individual has authorization to pick up the child.
In addition, maintaining active supervision that is appropriate for the ages and development of the children in your care will help decrease risk. If you have school-age children in your family child care, it is common for them to move independently from room to room. You want to promote responsibility and independence but make safety a priority. Make sure that you are always able to see or hear when a child needs help, is frightened, or is in danger. For older school-age children who have permission to be out of your direct visual supervision, check in every 15 minutes. Be sensitive about hard-to-supervise areas like the restroom. Maintain children’s privacy, but be alert for signs or sounds that indicate a problem.
Parents and families should have access to your home while their child is in your care. This does not mean strangers can roam your home. Rather, you should must provide controlled access (sign-in, secure entrances). Providing an open door to families makes your program more family-friendly, encourages partnerships between families and staff, and makes your family child care operations more transparent. There should be no “secret” spaces.
Field Trip Procedures
You will learn more about keeping children safe on field trips in the Safe Environments course. In this lesson, you will learn about ways to prevent child abuse or neglect from occurring when you leave the facility. You should have specific procedures to keep children safe on field trips. These procedures may include:
- Obtaining signed permission slips from parents and guardians.
- Recruiting volunteers as needed.
- Preparing for emergencies: emergency contacts, first aid kit, and signed permission slips are taken on the trip.
- Maintaining a list of adult volunteers and any assistants on the trip. Assign adults to specific supervision roles and make sure ratios and adequate supervision are maintained.
- Providing a “visual identity” for your group: identical T-shirts, bandannas, or hats. Do not put names on shirts or badges. These can be used by strangers to lure children into dangerous situations.
- Reviewing safety rules before and during the trip. Safety rules should include policies that prevent abuse and neglect, such as those below.
Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect in Family Child-Care Settings
Caring for children can be a stressful job. There can be a fine line between inappropriate care-giving practices and child abuse. When in doubt, talk to your family child care administrator. In the course on Preventing Child Abuse in Family Child Care Settings, you will learn more about positive guidance strategies. Sometimes, caregiving practices cross the line into maltreatment and even abuse. You will learn more about that in the next course. This lesson focuses on clear examples of child abuse or neglect in family child care settings. If you see a pattern of any of these signs or behaviors from a provider, a back-up provider, or another adult member of the household, you might suspect child abuse or neglect in the setting:
|Abuse Type||Signs of Abuse|
- Create a Guidance and Touch policy for your family child care program, so that all back-up providers and families know what your program's expectations are for everyone’s interactions with children.
- Communicate the value of facility security features like outdoor fencing and security check-in procedures.
- Observe children for signs of abuse or neglect in the program. When you have a concern, make a report to child protective services. They will investigate.
Take some time to learn about other programs’ policies and procedures around guidance and touch and think about how you want to structure these policies in your family child care program. Talk to your trainer, coach or family child care administrator to get copies of other programs’ guidance, discipline, and touch policies. Read them. Then, read and review the Guidance Activity below. Discuss your answers with colleagues and your family child care administrator.
Read and review the Prevention Checklist. Use it to monitor how well you protect children and yourself.
Eccles J. S., & Gootman J. A. (Eds.). (2002). Community Programs to Promote Youth Development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Strategic Direction for Child Maltreatment Prevention: Preventing Child Maltreatment Through the Promotion of Safe, Stable, and Nurturing Relationships Between Children and Caregivers.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: A Network for Action 2013 Resource Guide.