- Define safety and identify some safety strengths and challenges in a family child care.
- Collect the forms and materials necessary from your state to plan for and document safety in your family child care.
- Examine your own weaknesses in ensuring safety.
What is Safety and How Does it Look in Family Care Settings?
Safety generally means keeping environments or people free from dangers, risks, or injuries. Throughout these safety lessons, we will pay particular attention to the special setting that family child care is and speak directly to how to best address safety issues in a home setting where you will more than likely be the sole caregiver. There are many preventive things you can do to minimize accidents, and there are plans you can develop and practice to handle emergencies as they arise.
As a family child care provider, you have both special strengths and challenges in ensuring the safety of the children in your care.
- Family child care, by its very nature, offers children a homelike setting, which is typically more familiar to children and can help them feel more safe and secure.
- These settings also often have fewer children than center-based child care and a mixed-age, family-like group of children, which can make supervision and attending to everyone’s needs easier. Unlike center-based care in which children are often grouped by developmental level or age and where many children may require assistance with the same needs or tasks at once (e.g., diapering, feeding, tying shoes), in family child care settings, just like in real families, there is a wider-range of ability. While you are feeding an older infant, you can have a conversation with the two preschool-age children who are feeding themselves. This dynamic can feel less taxing for the provider and more relaxed for the children.
- Children and families are often with a family child care provider for a longer period, since children are not switching to a new classroom based on their age or developmental level. This provides a continuity of care. Being a consistent provider in a more intimate setting, you likely have a wealth of knowledge you have built about each child and their families, which can allow you to better anticipate risks, prepare for the uniqueness of each child, and respond appropriately in emergencies to comfort them.
- Because you are in a home, it may also be more challenging to be vigilant about all the hazards that can be part of any home setting. You may also share your home with other family members who may be less attuned to all that is needed to create and maintain safe environments when caring for children. You may live with family members who wish to engage in behaviors that are unsafe for children (e.g., smoking or drinking alcohol).Within family care settings, as noted above, you are typically caring for a wider age span of children. Although this can be an asset, it also requires special care to safely address children’s varying abilities; they may require different kinds of supervision and different materials to safely play in the environment and avoid, for example, choking hazards.
- Within family care settings, as noted above, you are typically caring for a wider age span of children. Although this can be an asset, it also requires special care to safely address children’s varying abilities; they may require different kinds of supervision and different materials to safely play in the environment and avoid, for example, choking hazards.In center-based settings, teachers have coworkers and supervisors that can help them identify safety risks, remind them to practice and record emergency plans and procedures, keep children’s records and emergency contacts up-to-date, and ensure that safety protocols are being followed. As a family child care provider, you are often not only the only teacher, but also an administrator when it comes to safety concerns. You will have to develop good safety procedures and constantly check to ensure that these are being followed; you have many roles to play in ensuring the safety of the children in your care.
- Because you are working by yourself, there are special considerations—for example, how can you appropriately monitor children during meal preparation or when you need to use the restroom?
- In center-based settings, teachers have coworkers and administrators that can help them identify safety risks, remind them to practice and record emergency plans and procedures, keep children’s records and emergency contacts up-to-date, and ensure that safety protocols are being followed. As a family child care provider, you are often not only the only teacher, but also an administrator when it comes to safety concerns. You will have to develop good safety procedures and constantly check to ensure that these are being followed; you have many roles to play in ensuring the safety of the children in your care.
You are not alone in planning to address safety concerns. This course is a strong foundation of what to consider in creating and maintaining safe environments, but your family child care administrator is also an important resource. Your family child administrator will help you address safety issues and consider solutions for unique safety concerns that you might have in your home or neighborhood. He or she will likely have specific forms or checklists for your state license to help you plan and address safety issues. As part of their role, the family child care administrator will also periodically visit your home to ensure a safe environment. You can also always call your family child care administrator with questions about safety-proofing your home and family child care program.
Balancing Safety with High-Quality Practice
Safety is undoubtedly paramount in caring for children, and as a family child care provider, creating safe environments, practices, and experiences is one of the most important jobs you will do. However, creating and maintaining safety does not have to come at the expense of valuable developmental experiences for children. For example, as long as you are actively monitoring the experience, there is no reason an infant in your care cannot also explore the play dough you have created for a toddler and preschool-age child or try out an art idea with some nontoxic, washable paint. You can also make easy adaptations to most experiences to promote all children’s safe engagement with other sensory, science, or art ideas. For example, if the older children in your care are experimenting with artificial snow (sample recipe; mix 2 1/2 cups of baking soda with 1/2 cup of white conditioner), with active supervision, you can place these materials in a sealed zip-lock bag for an infant to simultaneously explore. In the next lesson, we’ll define more what we mean by “active supervision,” and throughout the courses to come, we will help you think deeply about creating cognitively stimulating activities that can be safely conducted with children of varying ability and age. Although this may sometimes take some extra thought or planning at first, in time this balance of safety and high-quality experiences will come more naturally.
Talk with your family child care administrator and gather all the specific forms and checklists you will need to ensure and document safety in your family child care program according to your area-specific regulations. The lessons that follow will help you in completing this paperwork and thinking more deeply about meeting these requirements and ensuring a safe environment on a daily basis.
Make sure that every morning, before children arrive in your care, you complete a daily checklist. As noted above, other family members who share their home with you may not be as aware of all the safety requirements; they may have accidentally left the cover off the electrical outlet after vacuuming or left an item outside your back door that obstructs an exit pathway. A daily checklist helps you confirm the safety of the environment before children arrive.
Completing this Course
For more information on what to expect in this course and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Family Child Care Safe Environments Course Guide.
Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.
Take some time to look through the advice Childcare Aware offers to parents about picking a high-quality child care environment (see http://childcareaware.org/family-child-care-home-checklist/). Notice how many of the suggested questions relate to creating and maintaining safety. Think about how you address these questions in your setting. How would you answer these questions if a parent asked them? If they came to tour your family child care, what would they see?
Check out some of these safety checklists. Take some time to honestly assess whether or not each item is addressed. Highlight areas where you need improvement. In the lessons that follow, we will look in more depth about creating and maintaining safe environments and practices. After you finish the full Safe Environments course, return to these checklists and try rating your family care setting again. How has your score changed? Do you feel better prepared to talk with families and children about your safety preparations and why they are important?
- Health and Safety Checklist for Home-based (Family Child Care Home) Child Care Providers (example from ECELS-Healthy Child Care Pennsylvania)
- Family Child Care Home Checklist (example from North Carolina)
National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. (2019). Caring for Our Children. Retrieved from http://nrckids.org/CFOC
National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/licensing
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). MedLine Plus: Child Safety. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/childsafety.html