- Describe how a systems approach and ongoing professional development keep everyone in your program safe.
- Identify management practices that ensure staff complete and demonstrate competence for required safety training.
- Apply the content of this lesson to ensure oversight and accountability in your efforts to ensure completion and competence of required training.
A Systems Approach
Managing a child and youth program is challenging and complicated. Your program is a complex system comprised of many parts that are interdependent (people, facilities, resources). Each part contributes to the system’s overall purpose but no part can achieve that purpose by itself. Failure to achieve desired results is caused by a failure in the system.
A systems approach helps you find solutions to problems by looking for patterns and making adjustments based on feedback. For example, several times a week you have to send a staff member to cover ratio in a particular school-age classroom (problem). You could either continue to send someone to cover when the issue arises, or you could determine that a particular staff member is leaving early every Monday and Wednesday (pattern). Once you recognize that there is a pattern in behavior, the situation can be addressed in a more systemic way.
Organizational expert Peter Scholtes described systems thinking as "the general reflex or habit of conceiving of reality in terms of interdependencies, interactions and sequences." To show how this works, think about when children are on the playground. The interdependencies are the staff members who are positioned in zones to provide active supervision; the interactions are the staff members communicating with one another regarding the status of a child who fell off the monkey bars; the sequences are the taking of face-to-name head counts prior to entering the playground and when exiting the playground. This example demonstrates that there is a system to keeping children and youth safe while on the playground.
A lack of systems thinking is evident in your program if:
- Getting through the day is the norm instead of focusing on long-term planning.
- Blame prevails instead of focusing on the root causes of problems.
- Individual accomplishment is more important than focusing on the achievement of program goals.
As a manager, you must recognize the importance of systems, implement effective systems, and think systematically in order to achieve results. The most important systems in your program are those that keep children and youth safe from harm.
Creating a Culture of Compliance
When families leave their children at your program they are expecting to pick their children up exactly as they left them. There is nothing more important in your day-to-day work than protecting the children and youth entrusted in your care from harm. You alone can't keep the children and youth in your program safe; you must rely on the commitment of others (staff, families, and children) to do their parts and have systems in place to monitor compliance with your program’s safety regulations and policies. However, it is up to you to demonstrate a zero tolerance for unsafe practices. As a manager, what you say and what you do creates a program culture that is vigilant about protecting children and youth from harm.
Risk Management and Mitigation
As the manager, it’s your responsibility to manage and mitigate risks before they can pose serious harm. To do this, you need to ensure that a documented risk-management plan is in place and staff are trained in all aspects so it is executed to specifications.
As the manager you should have your staff conduct daily inspections using the playground safety checklist, classroom safety checklist, and facility checklist to ensure concerns are identified and reported. The concerns are recorded to document when the request was submitted and completed to ensure the risk was addressed. This proactive and collaborative process mitigates and manages risks before they can lead to harm.
There's an old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The majority of childhood accidents and tragedies in this country could have been prevented. When you make the safety of children and youth your top priority and utilize safety systems, you and your staff become risk mitigators.
Systems for Record Keeping
One of the most effective strategies for minimizing risk is to maintain a record-keeping system that addresses collection, storage, access, release and disposal of confidential and nonconfidential information. Effective managers realize that this is so much more than paperwork; they realize that the effective management of information protects and even saves lives.
Your day-to-day work involves multiple record-keeping systems, from maintaining ratios to maintaining your facility. Refer to your program’s Standard Operating Procedures for specific instructions for each record-keeping system you use.
Here are a few general things to consider when it comes to record-keeping systems. It is common for schools to have nut-free zones even if there are only a few children who have allergies. Why? Because it eliminates the risk of inconsistent compliance to policies and procedures. The inconsistent application of safety policies and regulations negates the benefits of the entire system and increases the risk of harm.
Record keeping helps prevent unqualified people from harming children. It protects children from getting the wrong dosage of medication or being picked up by an unauthorized person. A record-keeping system keeps staff and families informed about appropriate actions to take for children with special health-care needs. An effective system keeps vehicles properly inspected and ensures that playgrounds and facilities are safe.
As a facility manager, you must have zero tolerance when it comes to employing people who are unfit to work with children and youth. You are responsible for ensuring that children are cared for by qualified personnel. It is administrative negligence if background checks are not processed timely or if results aren't read as soon as they are received.
Staff members need to exercise diligence when it comes to knowing who can and cannot pick up children and youth. Staff cannot be timid about asking for an ID to see if it matches a name on the pickup authorization form. If the person is authorized, they shouldn't mind showing identification.
Here are some management practices that support a systems approach:
- Read and thoroughly understand your program’s Standard Operating Procedures.
- Know your chain of command.
- Know how to access government websites that provide electronic updates of regulatory requirements, such as signing up for alerts from the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
- Utilize technology to support compliance-monitoring efforts.
- Utilize electronic mechanisms for tracking compliance monitoring and updating children's and staff member's files.
- Meet regularly with your program team to update program safety policies and practices when regulatory changes are made and seek input from staff, families, and stakeholders.
- Communicate regulatory changes to staff and families immediately in writing.
- Provide training to staff and families when changes in standards are announced.
- Use time at staff meetings to review the effectiveness of policies and procedures or issues related to compliance; use if-then scenarios to identify potential issues and solutions.
- Create a risk-management plan that identifies concerns and noncompliance, a monitoring process, a protocol for corrective action and timelines for addressing noncompliances.
- Address issues immediately and implement systems to ensure they don't recur.
- Continue to learn about management principles and apply new approaches in your day-to-day work.
- Maintain an electronic tracking system for the submission and results of background checks.
- Maintain a record-keeping system that addresses collection, storage, access, release and disposal of confidential information.
Ongoing Professional Development
As a facility manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that staff members complete and demonstrate competence in required safety training so they can prevent or respond to injury and illness. Refer to your program’s list of required trainings.
First Aid and CPR
Your staff must be certified in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Most likely, first aid will be administered to at least one child or youth each day while in your program. Children and youth are active, and even when safety systems are in place, injuries will occur.
Regardless of the type of injury, it’s imperative your staff know what to do, as these are skills that will be put to use on a regular basis. Equally important is ensuring that staff have access to fully stocked first-aid supplies at all times. Emergencies are not the time to be running around looking for supplies. Refer to your program’s requirements for first-aid kits.
No one ever wants to be in an emergency situation, but everyone wants someone who is trained if an emergency arises. There are many ways to keep on top of required trainings; the important thing is to use a method that works for you.
Inappropriate Guidance and Discipline
You need to make clear to your staff that inappropriate discipline will not be tolerated and that if it occurs, dismissal may be the only course of action. What is appropriate and what is not should be addressed during orientation and on an ongoing basis both by you and your trainer.
You need to convey to your staff on an ongoing basis that they must recognize their limits, and if they get close to a breaking point, they need to summon help. The same is true if a staff member sees another staff member start to lose control. Without intervention, stress can escalate into an abusive situation where everyone involved is harmed.
While there are specific safety training requirements for staff, it's also important that there be ongoing professional development related to safety practices. The following are topics that should be offered on a regular basis to ensure that staff members are up-to-date with safety standards and procedures.
Safe Sleep and Tummy Time Practices
Staff members who care for infants need ongoing training to reinforce that the sleep position of infants is a matter of life and death. In the past few years, there has been a significant decrease in the number of infants who have died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), partly as a result of Back to Sleep efforts. There can be staff resistance when it comes to placing infants on their backs to sleep, but it can't be tolerated. There are Internet presentations that are great sources of information that you can use to drive home the importance of this topic. It's worth repeating that vigilant supervision is critical to keeping infants safe during sleep and tummy time.
Responding To Injury and Illness
Providing ongoing training on how to respond to injuries and illness assists staff members in remembering your program’s policies. Knowing what to do when reduces the risk of further injury and the spread of disease. This topic will be covered in greater depth in the Healthy Environments course.
Identifying and Responding to Concussions in Child and Youth Settings
As children are growing and learning, accidents are bound to occur. But what happens when a child suffers a significant head injury? What if they are too young to communicate how they feel as a result? With increasing research about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries, it is important for caregivers to understand how to properly identify and respond to head injuries in young children. As a program manager, use the following information regarding head injuries, as well as what you already know about responding to injuries, to ensure staff members are prepared to identify and respond to possible concussions in children and youth.
Childhood concussions are common. They can affect a child’s ability to think, learn, and interact with the world around them. According to Dr. Sam Torbati of Cedars-Sinai Hospital (2021), a concussion is “a mild, temporary form of brain injury that can result after a forceful blow to the head or jolt to the body which causes the brain to bounce against the skull.” Concussions are often thought to be the result of sports injuries, however, the most common reasons for a concussion in younger children are falls or collisions with objects such a ball, peer, table, or wall. The following are a few scenarios in which a concussion could occur:
Symptoms of a concussion can appear immediately following the injury or up to a few days afterwards. For this reason, it is important for caregivers to carefully observe the child and track their symptoms over the course of several days. Below are common symptoms to note:
Common Symptoms of Concussion by Age
Infants & Toddlers
- Frequent vomiting
- Excessive crying (especially when moving head)
- Significant changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
- Decreased interaction
Preschoolers & School Age
- Dizziness/ balance problems
- Changes in vision
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss/ slowed response time
- Changes in mood
- Significant changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
Regardless of the perceived severity of the head injury, caregivers should take the following actions (as outlined above) after a blow to the head occurs. Consider where you can best support staff members in the event of a head injury.
- Stay calm: We know that young children’s actions and feelings are affected by their caregivers’ responses. When you remain calm, the child can focus on calming themselves if they are upset.
- Take action: staff members should use their knowledge of the typical appearance and behavior of the child. If anything seems out of the ordinary, or any of the symptoms listed in the table above are present, seek appropriate medical care. Once the situation has been evaluated, provide appropriate first aid (stop any bleeding, clean any cuts or scrapes, apply bandages or cold compress). It might be helpful for the staff member to receive a second opinion from you regarding the child’s behavior and appearance.
- Notify: Whenever a child suffers a head injury, providers should contact the child’s family to notify them of what occurred and the status of the child. If immediate medical attention is needed, you may be asked to contact the family or Emergency Medical Services (911).
- Document: Ensure the correct incident reporting form used by your program is completed by the staff member caring for the child at the time of the injury. This is an important step as symptoms of a concussion may not appear for a few days. Refer to your program or Service specific guidelines for additional required documentation.
Concussion symptoms in infants and younger toddlers are especially important to note as children under 2 years of age are at a higher risk for more serious brain injuries. If excessive vomiting occurs in younger children, seek medical attention right away. Additional symptoms that warrant an emergency visit to a doctor or hospital (in all ages) include worsened headache, increased confusion, inability to stay awake, slurred speech, weakness, seizures, and loss of consciousness.
As evident in the information above, symptoms of a concussion will look different for every child. The recovery time will look different as well. Regardless of how the injury occurred or presented in a child, monitoring and rest is important for all ages to properly recover from a concussion. For older children, modifications to their learning environment and school workload may be necessary. Support staff members making appropriate modifications to their environment, curriculum, or schedule. If mild symptoms persist for longer than a week or signs of a regression in the child’s development are observed, encourage staff members to talk with the child’s family about contacting their pediatrician for follow-up care.
Administration of Medication
While this topic will be explored in greater detail in the Healthy course, it's important to understand the safety risks associated with administering medication. According to the Institute of Medicine, 400,000 preventable drug-related injuries occur in hospitals each year. These injuries happen even when medication is administered by highly trained medical professionals. Imagine the opportunity for injury in your program, where medication is administered by staff members who are not medically trained.
To administer medication correctly, it's imperative that you have systems in place to ensure that the right children get the right medicine at the right time. Any misstep can have life-threatening consequences.
Management Practices That Support Training and Ongoing Professional Development
The chart below summarizes your key responsibilities when it comes to ensuring that staff members receive and are competent in required training and ongoing professional development.
Identifying the potential safety risks in your program provides you with the information you need to protect everyone from harm.
The purpose of this Explore activity is twofold. First, download and print the Identifying Risks Chart and use yourPUBLIC program’s safety checklist to complete the activity. Spend time at a staff meeting to go over your findings and encourage staff to share some of their own classroom and program observations, input from teachers, and feedback from supervisors, trainers, and coaches, as well. Including everyone in discussions related to safety helps you create a culture of compliance, which protects everyone from harm.
Then, after risks and needs have been identified through your own classroom and program observations, input from teachers and feedback from trainers and coaches, you can think about identifying potential topics for professional development. Take time to generate a list of potential topics from recent teacher observations. These topics can include such things as a better understanding of policies and procedures, or strengthening classroom practices. Once you have generated your list, divide the topic into three categories: now, next, future. The now category are those topics that you feel are a priority; the next category are those topics that are next in importance and the future category are those topics that would be nice to have covered if time permits.
Learning where gaps in safety practices exist in your program allows you to strengthen your safety systems. Use the identified risks from the Explore Activity and ask staff members to identify the current procedures that are to be followed for each item. Compare staff responses with current policies. Based on the responses, you will be able to gauge where additional training and support are necessary.
Now that you have this feedback from your staff, ask them to share their ideas about training and professional development needs. write their topics down on chart paper. Don’t duplicate topics, but you could use tally marks to identify the number of times a topic was identified. At your next staff meeting or as a stand-alone activity have staff use colored sticky dots to rank their top-three training needs. Once this is complete, tabulate the top three topics. Then compare this list with your list of potential topics to see how alike or different they are. Use this information to plan future professional development.
Additionally, use the resource, Caring for Your Child’s Concussion, to gain valuable information on identifying and responding to serious head injuries. You can also provide the document from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to families to support them in caring for their child after a head injury.
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National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2018). NAEYC early learning program accreditation standard and assessment items. National Association for the Education of Young Children. https://www.naeyc.org/accreditation/early-learning/standards
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