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Protecting Children From Harm In Your Program

Child development programs are complex places. Policies and procedures must be in place to protect children and staff from harm. This lesson will help you understand the policies that protect children from mistreatment. You will also learn about ways your facility and program policies protect you from false allegations of abuse or neglect.

  • Distinguish between child abuse or neglect and poor caregiving 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, it 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 Center Settings

The Department of Defense makes every effort to ensure the safety and well-being of children involved in DoD facilities, such as schools and child development centers, or DoD-sponsored activities, such as youth sports or recreation programs. This includes conducting thorough background checks and training all staff and volunteers involved with these facilities and programs.

Facility Operations

Your building has been designed and furnished to prevent opportunities for child abuse. Watch this video to learn more.

Facilities that Protect Children from Harm

Learn how your facility has been designed to keep children safe

Your program also has policies and procedures in place to prevent child abuse and neglect. Take some time to learn about your program’s specific procedures. Here is an overview of ways your program prevents child abuse and neglect:

Hiring & Staffing Procedures

All staff members are carefully screened before hiring. Background checks are conducted and records are maintained. While your background check is in process, you will not work alone with children. All children must remain under the supervision of an employee who has passed the background check.

A staff member who has been accused of child abuse or neglect in the program will be reassigned to a position without contact with children while the case is investigated. Records will be maintained, so individuals that have abused or neglected a child are not re-hired at different facilities or installations.

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 Safety course.

Adult-child ratios have two parts: (a) the number of children per staff member and (b) the maximum group size.

NAEYC program standards (2007), the American Academy of Pediatrics (2011), and the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA) provide guidelines for ratios and group sizes. 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). 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.

In most Child Development Centers, the ratios and maximum group sizes are as follows:

  • Children ages 6 weeks through 12 months the ratio is 1:4 with maximum group size of 8.
  • Children ages 13 months to 24 months the ratio is 1:5 with a maximum group size of 10.
  • Children ages 25 months to 36 months the ratio is 1:7 with a maximum group size of 14.

Your program will have additional requirements with regard to maintaining accountability. Talk to your T&Cs about your specific program requirements.

Check with your trainer or manager about specific staffing requirements for your program or Service.

Guidance and Discipline Policy

Your program has a guidance and discipline policyMIL (or Service equivalent) that represents best practices in the field. In the Explore section of this lesson, you will work with your manager 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.

For all infant and toddler caregivers, guidance should be based on relationships. You are helping children learn positive skills and ways to interact. Use these strategies:

  • Set simple rules or guidelines for behavior. Examples might include “Be safe” or “Be gentle.” For young infants, consider developing rules or guidelines for adults’ behavior. For example, “I will keep you safe.”
  • Say and show what children should do. You might say, “Tasha, be safe. Sit on your bottom,” while patting the chair or sitting down.
  • Redirect children to a different behavior that is OK. For example, hand a child a rubber teething toy if he is chewing on objects. Provide duplicates of toys, so children do not have to wait.
  • Offer simple choices. For example, you might say, “Do you want to hold my hand or Ms. Dee’s hand?”
  • Make a change. If a child wants to climb, it might be a perfect time to go outside or move to a climbing area.

Infant and toddler caregiving staff should not:

  • Use corporal punishment (spanking, hitting, paddling, etc.)
  • Yell or shame a child
  • Isolate a child
  • Withhold food, water, or comfort
  • Bind or restrict a child’s movements (i.e., strap a toddler into a chair, so he cannot leave group time)

Child Accountability and Supervision: Admission and Release

Your program has standard operating procedures for the admission and release of children. Learn about your program’s policies related to releasing 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 before proceeding to the child’s classroom. Front desk staff will verify the individual has the authorization to pick up the child and then notify the classroom that someone other than the parent is picking the child up. Parents should periodically review and update the list of people approved for pick up. Also, it is best practice to discuss with parents at drop off, who will be picking up their child and to communicate that information with the staff that will be present at the time of release.

Open-Door Policy

Parents and families should have access to all parts of the building while their child is in the program’s care. This does not mean strangers can roam the building. Rather, programs must provide controlled access (sign-in, secure entrances). Providing an open door to families makes the program more family-friendly, encourages partnerships between families and staff, and makes the program’s operations more transparent. There should be no “secret” spaces.


Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect in Center Settings

Caring for children can be a stressful job. There can be a fine line between inappropriate caregiving practices and child abuse. When in doubt, talk to your managerMIL or the FAP. In the course on Preventing Child Abuse in Center 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 center settings. If you see a pattern of any of these signs or behaviors, you might suspect child abuse or neglect in your setting:

Signs of Abuse

  • A staff member becomes frustrated by a child’s crying and shakes or swings the baby roughly.
  • After a biting incident, a staff member tells a child to “bite him back hard, so he remembers how it feels.”
  • A staff member takes pictures of an infant’s genitalia or graphic images of toddlers toileting.
  • A staff member picks up a crying child and calls him names like “evil” and “spoiled.”
  • A staff member screams at an infant to “stop crying.”
  • A staff member takes an unscheduled break and leaves the classroom out of ratio.
  • A staff member walks away from a child on a changing table and leaves the baby unsecured and unsupervised.
  • A staff member refuses to feed a hungry infant because the baby needs to “learn a schedule.”
  • A staff member tells a toddler with soiled pants he’ll have to “just sit in his dirty pants” until he learns to use the toilet.

Institutional Abuse and Neglect

Learn about the tensions and procedures for reporting institutional abuse and neglect


  • Read your program’s Guidance and Touch policy. Make sure you understand it. Ask your manager any questions you might have. Follow the guidelines in the policy in all your interactions with children.
  • Communicate the value of facility security features like closed-circuit television, vision panels, 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 FAP, CPS, your reporting point of contact (RPOC) in Army programs and law enforcement following your Service and installation policy. They will investigate.


Take some time to learn about your program’s policies and procedures. Download and print the Guidance Activity. Talk to your manager 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 Guidance Activity. Make sure you understand the policies and what they mean for your work. 


Download and print the Prevention Checklist. Use it to monitor how well you protect children and yourself.


Which of the following features of your facility prevents child abuse and neglect?
True or false? Parents shouldn't be allowed in the building because they are strangers and might hurt a child.
Why do you need to read and understand the Guidance and Discipline Policy?
Your coworker constantly takes unscheduled breaks, leaving the classroom out of ratio compliance. You have talked to her and your administrator about this problem, but she still continues to do it. What should you do?
What should you do if you suspect a coworker of child abuse or neglect?
References & Resources

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.