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Making Your Family Child Care Home a Safe Place For Children

Your program is committed to protecting children from harm. In this lesson, you will learn about ways you can promote safety in your family care setting. You will also learn about policies and procedures that can prevent child abuse and neglect in the care settings.

  • Design the physical environment to promote safety.
  • Use active supervision to minimize the risk of child abuse and neglect.
  • Describe how your program design and standard operating procedures minimize the risk of child abuse and neglect.



What Design Features Can Help Keep Children Safe in Family Child care Homes?

All family child care homes are unique, and the individual character of each family child care home is part of what makes these settings feel like home. That being said, family child care homes should be designed to ensure that parents and family child care administrators can observe the daily care of children and ensure that the home and outdoor play areas are safe. The following design features can help promote visibility and enable active supervision of all children at all times:

  • All areas in and around the home used for a family child care program (e.g., rooms, hallways, entryway, and outdoors spaces) are well-lit, and visibility is good enough so that all spaces can be supervised easily.
  • There is visual access to all children at all times. Some visual barriers may need to be removed when multiple rooms are used for child care so that children can be seen from everywhere. Providers should adjust positioning and their environment so that all children are in line of sight at any given time.
  • Storage areas and closets are kept locked or secured so that a child cannot access them. These areas are only opened during child care hours if the provider needs to get something and then immediately relocked. Ideally, storage areas are also designed so the hardware on the door is operable from both sides. Doors on closets can be opened from the inside without a key. This prevents a child from being locked in a closet or storage area.
  • There are no draperies or blinds that obstruct the view into areas in which children receive care or areas where someone, including other children, might take a child.
  • For younger children, doors to bathroom are kept open for visibility and support. Children over age 5 and adults close bathroom doors for privacy.
  • Ideally, sleeping areas are located in activity rooms, so that all children can be viewed at all times. Sleeping children should be visible at all times. If a child or an infant falls asleep while other children are playing, that child should sleep in an area visible from the activity area. If all children are asleep, the provider may have them sleep in a different area of the home if all children are visible.
  • Play structures such as lofts and playhouses are built so that children can be viewed while at play in the structure.

Family child care providers should also take precautions to ensure that outsiders cannot enter the home and gain access to children. For example:

  • Choose one entryway into your home to serve as the central entrance for families and visitors.
  • Keep all doors locked except when you or families are in the process of entering or exiting the home.
  • Consider an alarm system for all exit doors that do not open into a fenced-in area.
  • Be alert and practice strong supervision when outdoors or in shared playground spaces, especially if strangers or outsiders approach the children.

What Operational Policies and Procedures Can Reduce the Potential for Child Abuse and Neglect?

With guidance fromyour local licensing agency, your family child care program has established operational policies and procedures that can reduce the potential for child abuse and neglect. These policies and procedures should address provider conduct, supervision of children, access to the home, and use of volunteers, interns, and students in training. Some examples of policies and procedures that may be similar to those at your program include the following:

Provider Conduct

  • Use of corporal punishment or other discipline procedures in violation of standards articulated by the state in which the family child care home is located is grounds for immediate termination of the program’s license or the ability to provide family child care services to families.

Supervision of Children

  • Children must be accompanied by a provider when returning to the home from outdoor play spaces.
  • Match supervision to the needs and abilities of children and youth. For infants, toddlers and preschoolers, supervision must be maintained at all times. No child can be left unattended at any time whether indoors or outdoors, asleep, resting, or awake. Children may only be out of line of sight for very brief, infrequent periods of time (e.g., so that you may use the restroom). Younger school-age children will also need more direct supervision. Make sure an adult is always close enough to respond if children call for help. Adapt supervision based on the needs of the children and the characteristics of the activity. Potentially dangerous activities like woodworking or water play will require direct supervision for all children regardless of age.
  • Children may be released only to a parent or legal guardian or an adult authorized in writing by the parent or legal guardian.
  • Indoor and activity spaces must be arranged so children can be visually supervised by the provider at all times.
  • If possible, outdoor play spaces should be fenced in, and gates to playgrounds should have closure hardware that cannot be operated by children under age 10.

Access to the Home and Pick-up Procedures

  • Parents or guardians must take their child to and pick up their child up from the program. The parent or guardian and provider should verbally and visually connect with each other during the drop-off and pickup times. Dropping a child off in the driveway, for example, without visually and verbally connecting with the family child care provider is unsafe.
  • If a parent or guardian is unable to pick up their child on a particular day, he or she should tell the provider ahead of time who specifically will pick up their child on which days, and approximately when they will arrive. Written consent from the parent or guardian to release the child to an alternate adult is preferred. When the alternate adult arrives to retrieve the child or children, the provider should check the individual’s driver’s license to ensure the correctly identified person is picking them up before releasing the child or children. In the event of an emergency, or if a parent or guardian forgets to inform the provider of an alternate adult picking up their child, always call the parent or guardian to confirm the arrangements before releasing the child or children.
  • Parents or guardians should have access to the areas in the home where a family child care program operates when their child is present in the program.
  • Visitors to your program must be accompanied by a provider at all times while they are in the child care spaces or outdoor play area.  Ensure that children are never left alone with a visitor in your program unless they are a back-up provider or family child care administrator.
  • Entry to your home should be limited to one entrance and exit. One entrance should be used for parents and visitors to access the program, while other means of entry should only be used to access outdoor play areas or evacuate in case of an emergency.

Volunteers, Interns, and Student Helpers

  • Volunteers, interns, and student helpers may not work alone with a child or group of children.
  • Volunteers, interns, and student helpers may not work in your program after violations of your program discipline policy or allegations of child abuse or neglect.
  • Volunteers, interns, and student helpers must comply with regulations for background checks and training related to recognizing, reporting, and preventing child abuse and neglect.

Special Supervision Considerations for Infants

When working with infants, there are additional guidelines you should keep in mind to prevent harm. These include: safe sleep, tummy time, and signs of distress.

Safe Sleep: All infants should be placed on their backs to sleep. Infants should sleep in a safety-approved crib with a firm mattress. No pillows, blankets, toys, or soft bedding should be in the crib. These precautions minimize the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. You will learn more about this in the Safe Environments course.

Tummy Time: All infants need to spend short periods of time on their tummies each day. This strengthens their head, neck, and core muscles. Tummy time should happen when the baby is awake and alert. As the infant’s muscle strength allows, providers may begin to conduct tummy time in sessions while sitting on the floor next to the infant, interacting with the infant, and ensuring infants are not in distress. Under no circumstance should an infant be left unattended or out of arms reach on their stomach during tummy time. If an infant is in distress during tummy time, providers should reposition the infant’s body or end the tummy time session. If the infant falls asleep during tummy time, the infant must be moved to his or her assigned crib or port-a-crib immediately and placed on their back to sleep. As the provider, you should always sit with the infant during tummy time. This encourages interaction and bonding, but it also ensures the infant is supervised during tummy time.

Signs of Distress: Infants are completely reliant on you for their safety and care. You must learn to watch for signs that infants are in distress. If you see any of these signs, take immediate action by calling 911:

  • Infant becomes blue around the mouth
  • Breathing becomes rapid and shallow

There are other signs that an infant is experiencing lower level distress. It is important to respond quickly to an infant when you see these signs:

  • Crying
  • Arching the back and pushing away
  • Flailing the arms or legs
  • Spreading fingers wide apart
  • Looking panicked or worried
  • Gagging
  • Repeatedly yawning, sneezing, or hiccupping

When you see these signs, pick the infant up and soothe them. Rock the baby, walk around the room with the baby, or sing a gentle song. Try to reduce loud noises, bright lights, and other distractions in the environment that might be upsetting the baby.


What do safe facilities look like? Watch this video to find out.

Facilities that Protect Children from Harm

Learn how your facility has been designed to keep children safe.


When abuse or neglect occurs at a family child care home, the results can be devastating to the provider or adult involved, to the children, to the families, and to the entire system of family child care providers. You need to know how to prevent child abuse and neglect. Your prevention role includes the following:

  • Recognizing when high levels of personal stress are affecting your caregiving performance and learning ways to remain in control of your behavior
  • Learning about stages of child development so your expectations for children’s behavior are realistic and appropriate
  • Learning about and using positive guidance techniques that help children develop self-discipline
  • Trying to understand the reasons for a child’s behavior
  • Recognizing the signs within your program that indicate a potential for child abuse and neglect
  • Following regulations that minimize the potential for child abuse and neglect
  • Knowing when to reach out for support. You are not alone on this journey.


Tour your home with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator. Read and complete the Facility Features that Protect Children from Abuse and Neglect checklist below and take it with you on the tour. Discuss with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator what is applicable to your setting and how you might make improvements. Make notes in the table about how the features protect children from abuse and neglect.


Read and review the Prevention Guide. You first saw this checklist in the course on Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect. Review it and use this checklist to reflect on whether you and your program are protecting children from abuse and neglect.


Corporal punishment:
Inflicting physical pain upon a child as a consequence for behavior; examples are spanking, whipping, or paddling


A parent can’t believe that you don’t cover the windows when the children nap. She says there is too much light in the room. Based on this lesson, what should you tell her?
True or false? You and a volunteer are supervising a group of children. The volunteer offers to take a small group outside by herself so that you can have a break. It is OK for her to take the children outside alone.
True or false? You are supervising a group of napping children. You really need to go to the mailbox. Since the children are all asleep, it’s OK for you to step out of the house for a moment.
True or false? A child’s uncle arrives to pick her up. You have never met the uncle and he is not on the list of people authorized to pick the child up. The child is very excited to see him and tells you that she knew he was coming to pick her up. She says her mom planned it because she had to work late. You can release the child to her uncle.
References & Resources

Note: The narrative content of the Learn section of this lesson was prepared by Derry G. Koralek, Teaching Strategies Inc., Washington, DC, in November 1993 under Department of Defense Contract #MDA 903-91-M-6715 for the Office of Family Policy Support and Services, Office of the Secretary of Defense. It has been updated based on Unified Facilities Criteria.

Koralek, D. G. (1993). Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect in Center Settings. Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies, Inc. Department of Defense Contract #MDA 903-91-M-6715 for Office of Family Policy Support and Services, Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Koralek, D. G. (1994) Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: A Training Module for Youth Program Staff. Double H Productions. Department of Defense Contract #DAE08-94-5011. 

The National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention. (n.d.) Child abuse and neglect fact sheet.