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Ensuring Staff-To-Child Ratios Are Followed At All Times

As the child and youth Program Manager, your primary responsibility is to provide oversight and accountability for the safety of children and youth in your program. The risks for children increase when required ratios are not maintained. This lesson details what matters most when it comes to maintaining ratios.

  • Describe why ratios matter when it comes to keeping children and youth safe.
  • Identify management practices that ensure staff follow protocols and policies related to maintaining ratios.
  • Apply the content of this lesson to ensure greater oversight and accountability in your efforts to maintain ratio.



Maintaining Ratios

As a Program Manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that staff comply with staff-child ratio requirements at all times. Adherence to staff-child ratios is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it helps staff better supervise children and youth. Second, it diminishes the transmission of infectious disease. Third, it allows staff to provide more individual attention to children. Finally, it provides consistency for children and youth, which helps them feel emotionally secure and supports their development and learning.

Maintaining staff-child ratios needs to be done all the time and requires commitment from everyone. It is important that staff understand the importance and benefits of maintaining staff-child ratios at all times. If you have created a culture of compliance and adhere to your PUBLICprogram's systems for maintaining ratios, no one would ever think about stepping out of the classroom for even a second and leaving their teaching partner out of ratio. To ensure staff-child ratios are maintained, staff need to count children often, and you need to frequently monitor your systems to evaluate their effectiveness at maintaining ratios.

One of the most effective ways to ensure ratios are always maintained is to be proactive in your planning and scheduling. Conducting regular ratio audits and reviewing classroom rosters for over and under staffing can assist you in your efforts to schedule adequate staff to ensure coverage.


Transitions happen all day long in programs: arrivals and departures, transitions between spaces, and from one activity area to another. During transitions it is very easy for children and youth to get distracted and separated from their group. Staff need to be especially careful during transitions to make sure they are keeping track of all the children. It is your responsibility to ensure staff members receive adequate training on all aspects of maintaining ratios, from conducting ratio counts to communicating when there are ratio concerns.

Importance of Communication

Effective communication is a recurring theme in management courses because this skill will support you in all aspects of your work. Effective communication systems are essential to maintaining required ratios. Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman Jr. (1982) state in In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies that "the hallmark of any successful organization is a shared sense among its members about what they are trying to accomplish." The achievement of shared goals is directly related to effective communication. Everyone on a team must do their part in accordance with written policies and procedures.

Effective communication strategies will support you as you move your team from "me" to "we." Balancing individual needs and organizational needs is one of most challenging aspects of being a Program Manager. A culture of "we" is imperative when it comes to protecting everyone from harm.

Early childhood educator Paula Jorde Bloom (2003) says "effective leaders are able to synthesize complex information and communicate that information cogently and succinctly. They are persuasive advocates for their cause and know how to explain issues with clarity and eloquence." Effective communication, in addition to good planning, will support you as you create a culture of compliance.

An effective communication system will ensure ratios are maintained at all times. Whether your system involves ratio checks by intercom or in person, your staff must have a thorough understanding of your PUBLICprogram's communication system so you can be informed and can adjust accordingly. In addition, written procedures are equally important. Staff must be trained on those procedures, as well as receive a copy of the staff handbook. This will be addressed in greater detail in the Communication and Language Development course.

Supervise & Support

Management Practices that Support Staff-Child Ratios

The chart below summarizes your key responsibilities when it comes to ensuring that required ratios are maintained at all times.

  1. Management Practice: Train for Ratios

    I should always...

    Make certain that staff are trained during their orientation on protocols for maintaining required ratios at all times. ensure staff never...
    • Step out of the classroom and leave the classroom out of ratio-no matter what
    • Leave at their regularly scheduled time if the classroom is out of ratio
    • Welcome or dismiss children without marking it on the attendance record
    • Transition from one activity or location without taking name-to-face head counts
    • Refuse to comply with ratio policies and procedures
  2. Management Practice: Monitor Ratios

    I should always...

    Monitor ratios using frequent walk-throughs and analysis of ratio sheets. This ensures proper staffing policies are enforced and required ratios are being maintained. ensure that staff never...

    Find themselves in situations where there isn't adequate staff to maintain ratios

  3. Management Practice: Schedule and Maintain Adequate Staff

    I should always...

    Schedule adequate staff to maintain ratio and group size requirements. Account for planned and unplanned absences to decrease the regrouping of children and the reassignment of staff. ensure staff never...

    Find themselves in situations where there aren't adequate staff to maintain ratios

  4. Management Practice: Communicate Consequences

    I should always...

    Communicate often about expectations and procedures for maintaining required ratios. Provide clear and consistent feedback to staff members regarding their compliance with protocols. ensure staff never...

    Put children and youth at risk by not adhering to the maintenance of ratio protocols

Watch this video to hear about ways to maintain ratios.

Ratios Matter

Ways to ensure ratios are maintained


Recognizing patterns is essential to identifying solutions to ratio concerns. Read and complete the Ratio Tally Chart activity based on current practices related to maintaining ratios at your program.


Now that you have identified concerns related to maintaining ratios, read and complete the Ratio Planning Chart activity to identify possible corrective action steps. You may choose to share them at a staff meeting and have staff role play the different scenarios related to maintaining ratios.


Staff-Child Ratios:
The number of children who can be cared for by one staff member
Movement from one place and/or activity to another


True or false? It's okay to be out of ratio for short periods of time.
True or false? Head counts only need to be taken at the beginning and end of the day.
True or false? Staff schedules have nothing to do with maintaining ratios.
Which of the following transitions is the most difficult when it comes to maintaining ratios?
References & Resources

Bloom, P. J. (1991). Blueprint for action: Achieving center-based change through staff development. Gryphon House, Inc., PO Box 275, Mt. Rainier, MD 20712.

Bloom, P. J. (2003). Leadership in action: How effective directors get things done. New Horizons Publishers.

Sciarra, D. J., Lynch, E., Adams, S., & Dorsey, A. G. (2015). Developing and administering a child care and education program. Cengage Learning.