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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 adhere to 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 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 assists with the supervision of children and youth; it is much easier to supervise smaller groups of children. Second, it diminishes the transmission of communicable disease. Third, it allows teachers to provide more individual attention to children. Finally, it provides consistency for children and youth so they feel emotionally secure, which supports their development and learning.

Maintaining staff-child ratios requires commitment on the part of everyone. Just like supervision, maintaining ratios is not a sometimes activity. It’s an all-the-time activity. If you have created a culture of compliance and adhere to yourPUBLIC program'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; they will understand and follow yourPUBLIC program's protocols, knowing there are consequences if they don’t. When it comes to ratios, your staff need to count and count often, and you need to frequently monitor your systems for 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 to analyze 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 from inside to outside, transitions from one activity area to another and to and from shared spaces. As a result, it's very easy for children and youth to get distracted and dislocated from their group. Staff need to be especially vigilant by conducting name to face head counts during each of these times of transition. It is your responsibility to ensure staff members receive 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 all of the 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 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 yourPUBLIC program'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 course.

  1. 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
    • Get upset when they are reassigned to meet ratios
  2. 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 staff never...
    • Find themselves in situations where there isn’t adequate staff to maintain ratios
  3. Schedule and Maintain Adequate Staff

    I Should Always...

    Schedule adequate staff to maintain ratio and group size requirements. Having adequate staff accounts 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. Communicate Consequences

    I Should Always...

    Communicate consequences for not maintaining required ratios, and follow through with those consequences for everyone, every time ensure staff never...
    • Continue to put children and youth at risk for 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 safety concerns. Download and print the attached chart, completing it based on current practices related to maintaining ratios at your program.


Now that you have identified concerns related to maintaining ratios, download and print the chart identifying possible corrective action steps.  A follow up activity might include sharing this information at a staff meeting and having 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 activity to another


True or False? Staff should conduct name-to-face head counts at the start of the day and at the end of the day.
A new preschool teacher has joined your program staff. What is the best way for this new staff member to learn about maintaining required ratios?
Which of the following are protocols you should follow as a program manager?
References & Resources

Developing and Administering A Child Care Center, June Sciarra, Anne Dorsey, Ellen Lynch, 7th edition, 2009

Leadership In Action: How Effective Directors Get Things Done, Paula Jorde Bloom, 2003

Blueprint for Action, Paula Jorde Bloom, Marilyn Sheerer, Joan Britz, 1998