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Making The Center A Safe Place For School-Age Children

Your program is committed to protecting children from harm. In this lesson, you will learn about the features of your facility that promote safety. You will also learn about the policies and procedures that prevent child abuse and neglect in the center.

  • Design the physical environment to promote safety.
  • Use active supervision to minimize the risk of child abuse and neglect.
  • Identify actions that protect you from false allegations of abuse or neglect.
  • Describe how your room design, center design, staffing, and standard operating procedures minimize the risk of child abuse and neglect.



The DoD is committed to protecting children from child abuse and neglect in all DoD-sanctioned activities. This includes school-age programs. To help minimize the risk of child abuse and neglect, several steps are taken:

  • All staff must complete criminal background checks. While background checks are being processed, new staff members must remain in line-of-sight-supervision by a staff member who has passed the background check.
  • A Training & Curriculum Specialist is available to provide professional development and support around preventing child abuse and neglect. The T&CS is supported by the installation’s Family Advocacy Program.
  • Annual child abuse prevention, identification, and reporting training is provided by the Family Advocacy Program.
  • Facilities are designed to prevent opportunities for child abuse and neglect.
  • Staff are expected to provide adequate supervision for school-age children at all times.
  • Policies and standard operating procedures are in place to prevent child abuse and neglect.

You will read more about the facilities, supervision, and standard operating procedures in this lesson.

How is Your Facility Designed to Keep Children Safe?

School-age programs operate in many different types of facilities. Your program might operate within a 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 are designed to ensure that parents and administrators can observe the daily care of children at all times to ensure the facility and outdoor play areas are safe. These features promote visibility and enable active supervision of school-age children at all times (depending on the age and design of your facility, it may not have all of these features):

  • 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.
  • Closed circuit television (CCTV) 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.

The area additional design elements that help ensure school-age 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.
  • 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.
  • One central entrance area serves all wings or modules. This reduces the number of ways to enter or exit the building.
  • 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 Polices and Standard Operating Procedures Can Reduce the Potential for Child Abuse and Neglect?

With guidance from the Department of Defense, your Your center 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

  • At least two adults must be present in the center 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 immediate dismissal 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 and youth 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.
  • Match your supervision to the needs and abilities of the children and youth. 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. Adapt your 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.
  • Use sign-in and sign-out systems 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. Sometimes you might be assigned to supervise a specific room. Other times you might float between all program areas and supervise children as they transition between spaces.

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.


What do safe facilities look like? Watch this video to find out.

Facilities that Protect Children from Harm

Learn how your facility has been designed to keep children safe


When abuse or neglect occurs at a center, the results can be devastating to the employee involved, to the children, to the families, and to the entire program. You need to know how to prevent child abuse and neglect. Your prevention role includes the following:

  • Recognizing when high levels of personal stress are affecting your caregiving performance and learning ways to remain in control of your behavior
  • Knowing when to reach out and ask for support. You are not on this journey alone
  • Learning about stages of child development so your expectations for children’s behavior are realistic and appropriate
  • Learning about and using positive guidance techniques that help children develop self-discipline
  • Trying to understand the reasons for a child’s behavior
  • Recognizing the signs at your center that indicate a potential for child abuse and neglect
  • Following Service regulations that minimize the potential for child abuse and neglect


Print the Facility Features Checklist below and tour your facility with your trainer, coach, or administrator. Look for each of the features listed and ask how it works in your facility. Make notes in the table about how the feature protects children from abuse and neglect.


There are steps you can take every day to protect children from child abuse and neglect in your program. These same steps help keep you protected from false allegations from a child, parent, or co-worker. Review and complete Protecting Yourself from Allegations of Child Abuse and Neglect. If you have any questions on any of this information you should follow up with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Corporal punishment:
Inflicting physical pain upon a child as a consequence for behavior. Examples are spanking, whipping, or paddling


Your school-age program shares a playground with a local elementary school. The playground is not fenced. You look out the window while preparing to take a group of children outside. You see a grown woman swinging alone on the swings. What should you do?
You were recently hired, and your background check clearance has not yet been processed. You are scheduled to open the building, but the other staff member has not arrived yet. True or False? You can supervise the children by yourself.
True or false? You and a teen volunteer are supervising a group of children. The teen volunteer offers to take a small group outside by herself. It is OK for her to take the children outside alone.
True or false? You are supervising the woodworking area. You really need to use the restroom. Since the children are all working hard, it’s OK for you to step out of the room to use the restroom.
True or false? A child’s uncle arrives to pick her up. You have never met the uncle and he is not on the list of people authorized to pick the child up. The child is very excited to see him and tells you that she knew he was coming to pick her up. She says her mom planned it because she had to work late. You can release the child to her uncle.
References & Resources

Special Note: The narrative content of the LEARN section has been adapted from two sources developed under the direction of the DoD, 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.

It has been cross-referenced and updated based on Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC 4-740-14)

The National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention. (n.d.) Child abuse and neglect fact sheet.