- Understand how the design of the physical environment promotes safety.
- Identify actions that protect all staff from false allegations of abuse or neglect.
- Describe what support staff can do to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Note: The narrative content of the Learn section of this lesson has been adapted from two sources developed under the direction of the Department of Defense Office of Family Policy for military child and youth programs:
- Koralek, D. G. (1993, Nov). 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.
How is Your Facility Designed to Keep Children Safe?
Child development and school-age programs operate in many different types of facilities. Your program might operate within a dedicated child development center, in a renovated elementary school, a community center, or a variety of other settings. Regardless of floor plan or design elements, all programs share key characteristics that protect children from harm. All programs are designed with features that promote visibility and enable active supervision of children at all times. Depending on the age and design of your facility, it may have most but not all of these features:
In Child Development Centers:
- There are windows in the doors to all rooms and areas used to care for children, except for adult and school-age toilet rooms, allowing activities in the room to be viewed from outside the room.
- There are vision panels between activity rooms and hallways to provide visual access.
- Doors on toilet stalls are removed, except for toilets used by children over age 5 and adults, or there are half walls that allow line-of-sight-supervision for children under age 5.
- Walls around toilet stalls are reduced to half the normal height, if possible, to permit better viewing of toilet areas.
- Storage areas are designed so the hardware on the doors 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. In some Services, vision panels are required in the doors for all storage areas.
- There are no draperies or blinds that obstruct the view into areas in which children receive care or areas where someone might take a child. Artwork is not hung on windows.
- There are sinks for handwashing in activity rooms rather than in toilet areas so children can be observed more easily.
- Diapering areas are separated from activity rooms by either half walls or walls with glass. Ideally, buildings are constructed with no walls between diapering areas and activity rooms to increase visibility of caregivers and children during diapering.
- Crib or sleeping areas are located in activity rooms. If the design of the building prevents this arrangement, crib or sleeping areas are separated from activity rooms by half walls or walls with glass.
- Concave mirrors are installed where needed to improve visibility.
- Rooms used for evening care are located near the front door so staff and parents have easy access.
- Outdoor play areas are constructed so all parts can be viewed from inside the center and from outside the playground fencing. There are windows in the walls between activity rooms and outdoor play areas to permit viewing of both areas.
- Doors to storage areas are visible from the main building so they can be visually monitored by adults other than those on the playground.
- Play structures such as lofts and playhouses are built so that children can be viewed while at play in the structure.
- Closed circuit television (CCTV) systems are installed, and working properly, and allow staff members, managers, T&CSs, and families to monitor program activities.
In School-Age programs:
- All program areas (rooms, hallways, parking lots, and outdoors spaces) are well-lit and visibility is good enough that staff members can supervise all spaces easily.
- Storage areas are designed so the hardware on the doors 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. In some Services, vision panels are required in the doors for all storage areas. This prevents children from entering unsafe spaces with each other or an adult who means harm.
- Closed circuit television systems are installed and working properly, and allow staff members, managers, T&CSs, and families to monitor program activities.
- There are no draperies or blinds that obstruct the view into areas in which children receive care or areas where someone might take a child.
- Concave mirrors are installed where needed to improve visibility around corners or into difficult-to-see spaces.
- Doors to outdoor storage areas are visible from the main building so they can be visually monitored by adults other than those on the playground.
There are additional design elements that help ensure children are safe. According to Koralek’s guide to preventing child abuse and neglect in center settings (1993), these include:
- The reception desk is located so that the entrance can be viewed by reception desk staff.
- Large centers have alarms on all exit doors that do not open onto a play area.
- Centers have alarms on all exit doors other than the main entrance and the kitchen exterior entrance that do not open to a fenced area.
- A system at the main entrance, such as a buzzer system, restricts entry to the building at night when only a few caregiving employees are on duty.
What Policies and Standard Operating Procedures Can Reduce the Potential for Child Abuse and Neglect?
Your program has established operational policies and procedures that can reduce the potential for child abuse and neglect. These policies and procedures address staff and supervision, supervision of children, access to the facility, 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:
Staff Conduct and Supervision
- No adult should be alone with a child or group of children in any part of the center, at any time during the program day. At least two adults must be present in school-age programs at all times.
- At least one staff member at a supervisory level must be present in the center at all times.
- Staff must wear nametags or apparel that visually identify them to parents and visitors as employees who are responsible for the program and the children enrolled.
- Use of corporal punishment or other discipline procedures in violation of center policies is grounds for disciplinary action, possibly including termination, in accordance with service personnel policies.
- Center staff may not take a child or children enrolled in the program to their home or in their own vehicle without permission of the child’s parent and the center director.
Supervision of Children
- Children must not be left unattended or under the sole supervision of teen volunteers.
- Children may be released only to a parent or legal guardian or an adult authorized in writing by the parent or legal guardian. Follow your program’s policies regarding the age at which pre-teens can sign themselves out of programs or into the teen center.
- Staff must match their supervision to the needs and abilities of the children. Younger school-age children will need more direct supervision. Make sure an adult is always close enough to respond if the children call for help. Help staff adapt supervision based on the needs of the children and the characteristics of the activity. Potentially dangerous activities like woodworking and swimming will require direct supervision for all children regardless of age.
- Staff must use a sign-in and sign-out system to monitor which children are in attendance and where they are in the program.
- Work with other staff members to make sure all areas of the program are adequately supervised. Staff will need to monitor indoor rooms, outdoor spaces, hallways, restrooms, etc.
Access to the Center
- Parents must have access to all areas of the center during the times when their child is present in the facility.
- Visitors to the center must be accompanied by a staff member at all times while they are in the facility or outdoor play area.
- Entry to the center should be limited to one entrance and exit.
- All persons other than staff and parents bringing children to and from the center must sign in and out at the reception desk or with appropriate personnel. For example, a food service delivery person who enters through the kitchen would sign in with the cook.
Volunteers, Interns, and Students-in-Training
- Volunteers, interns, and students-in-training may not work alone with a child or group of children.
- Volunteers, interns, and students-in-training may not work in the center after violations of the program discipline policy or allegations of child abuse or neglect.
- Volunteers, interns, and students-in-training must comply with regulations for background checks and training related to recognizing, reporting, and preventing child abuse and neglect.
Maintaining Ratio in Your Program
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 can learn more about adult-child ratios and maximum group size in the Virtual Lab School Safe Environments course.
Staff-to-child ratios have two parts: (1) the number of children per staff member and (2) the maximum group size.
Program standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (2018), the American Academy of Pediatrics (2019), and the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation Commission (NECPA) provide guidelines for ratios and group sizes. For example, NAEYC recommends a maximum group size of eight for children ages birth to 15 months and a ratio of at least 1:4. When children are 21 to 36 months, the maximum group size can reach 12 children (ratio 1:6). NAEYC recommends a maximum group size of 20 for children ages 4 and 5 (ratio 1:10). If the majority of the class is 3 years old, the maximum recommended group size drops to 18 (ratio 1:9). The group sizes and ratios are guidelines. Your specific program may have different standards based on level of staff support, training, and monitoring such as video or closed-circuit television.
The Council on Accreditation’s After School Standards (2010) and the National Afterschool Association’s Standards for Quality School Age Care provide guidelines for ratio and group sizes in school-age settings. These groups recommend ratios of 1:10 or 1:15 when children are age 6 and older, and 1:8 or 1:12 when the program includes children under age 6. It is important to remember that these are guidelines. Always check with your program’s procedures, as they will have a set ratio policy for you to follow.
Guidance, Discipline, and Touch Policy
Your program has a guidance and discipline policy that represents best practices in the field. Work with your administrator to get a copy of the Guidance and Discipline Policy for your program. This policy statement describes acceptable and unacceptable forms of guidance and discipline in your program.
Your program also has a policy regarding acceptable forms of touch. Make sure that you understand and follow the policy. Touch is a healthy and necessary part of a nurturing relationship. Touch can help children and youth feel emotionally secure. For example, a pat on the back or a friendly hug can make a child feel welcome and encouraged. Sometimes touch is necessary. For example, a volunteer yoga instructor may touch a child’s foot to help him learn a pose or a kitchen staff member might move a child’s hand while setting snack on the table. Some touch can be dangerous, though. 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, respectful language and tone of voice
It is a good idea to ask permission before touching a child (“Can I put this icepack on your knee where you fell?”). You should also describe what you are doing (“I’m going to move your body just a little so that I can push the snack cart into the room.”).
What do safe facilities look like and how can you help children in your program feel safe? Watch the following videos to find out.
As a member of the support staff, you may observe things in the program environment that may put children at risk of abuse, neglect, or harm. Highlighted here are specific consideration for support staff members based on roles:
- If you work at the front desk in a child care program, you are the person most responsible for making sure visitors sign in and sign out, children leave with approved adults only, and children enter and exit the building safely. You are also the most likely person to view happenings in the parking lot and if there are suspicious individuals on the facility grounds. If you ever observe unsafe driving in the parking lot, children left unattended in cars, children arriving or departing the center without proper car seats, or individuals loitering near the building, you need to immediately notify your administrator. All these circumstances put children and families at risk and require immediate action.
- Building maintenance staff need to be particularly cautious about hazards in the building that could place children at harm or prevent supervision. As you complete work in your program be especially careful to relock doors that should be locked, put child safety locks and equipment back as they were, not leave cleaning materials or equipment unattended, and make sure that you do not move furniture or draperies so they prevent the supervision of children.
- Staff who work in food service may use doors from the building’s kitchen to bring in food deliveries, take out trash, or carry out other parts of their role. Make sure that you do not leave these entries improperly attended to or open without reason. This could potentially place a child at risk of leaving the building. If your program serves children meals in a cafeteria-type setting, you may notice trends with specific children’s eating patterns. While it is not necessarily cause for concern, if you notice a child who never eats in the program or on the other hand requests what seems like an extreme amount of food, it is OK to mention this to the child’s lead teacher or someone from program leadership. Making them aware of such observations can be valuable as they think about children’s and families overall needs and circumstances.
Tour your facility with your coach, trainer, or administrator. Download and print the Facility Features Checklist and take it with you on the tour. Look for each of the features listed and ask your coach, trainer, or administrator to describe how they work in your facility. Make notes in the table about how the feature protects children from abuse and neglect. If you have other questions about your specific building, use this time to discuss those, too.
Take some time to learn about your program’s policies and procedures. Talk to your administrator and get a copy of your program’s guidance, discipline, and touch policies. Read them. After you have finished reading your program’s policies, answer the questions in the Reviewing the Guidance and Touch Policy activity. Make sure you understand the policies and what they mean for your work.
Facility Features Checklist
Any adult who works in a child care program should take steps every day to protect children from child abuse and neglect. Although you have a different role from direct care staff, you still have an important responsibility to keep children safe. These same steps help keep you protected from false allegations from a child, parent, or coworker. Take these steps seriously to protect children and yourself. Review and reflect on the Prevention Checklist.
Koralek, D. G. (1993, Nov). 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. https://www.ncfrp.org/