In Start Your Own Child-Care Service, the Staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. and writer Jacquelyn Lynn explain how you can start a child-care service, whether you want to start a small homebased operation or a large commercial center. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer smart advice on how to handle problems that could affect the safety of the children at your child-care center.

Child-care providers have a tremendous responsibility for the safety and well-being of the children in their care. The list of what could go wrong in a child-care center ranges from a minor bump or bruise to a death and includes thousands of possibilities in between.

The first step in dealing with problems is to be proactive and put together systems to prevent them from happening in the first place. Here are some issues you should be prepared for:

Security.

The reality of the world in which we live makes tight security in child-care facilities critical. Although shootings and hostage situations in centers make the headlines when they happen, they are still relatively rare. Even so, child-care centers are frequently the scenes of crimes, including domestic abuse, custody disputes, and other occurrences that create tense emotional situations that can physically or mentally harm a child.

Use these tips to add a measure of security to your facility while still maintaining a warm, friendly atmosphere:

Have a gatekeeper. This is the person—usually the center’s receptionist/secretary—in charge of screening outsiders and acting as a buffer between the classrooms and the outside world. This individual should be trained to deal with security issues such as knowing who to call for information or security backup and how to keep unwanted visitors out of classrooms. This person should also be kept updated on any custodial or domestic situations involving staff members and/or children and be given the means to deal with those situations appropriately and effectively.

Be proactive about high-risk situations. At the beginning of each year, send a request asking to be notified of any change in domestic status for children and staff, stating that this request is done for security purposes only. Share this information discreetly and on a need-to-know basis with staff members.

Provide each classroom with some form of communication with the main office and outside world. Too often, caregivers are isolated in classrooms where they have no means of getting help in an emergency. Intercoms, walkie-talkies, handheld radios, and cell phones are all options to consider.

Have floor plans of your facility available both on- and off-site. Physical descriptions of your building and rooms are useful in the event of any emergency and make the jobs of law enforcement and rescue personnel much easier. The plans should indicate features such as windows, doors, water shut-off valves, and electrical breaker boxes. They should also note the location of any communication devices such as televisions, telephones, and computers.

Train staff to deal with violent situations. Staff members should know how to proceed in various situations when they are confronted with angry people.

Maintain copies of emergency contact information off-site. In emergency situations, names and phone numbers of parents, children, and caregivers become critical. Who is in and out of the building is also important information that should be available from a secure location in case the office is not accessible for any reason.

Security is no less critical in a family child-care setting. If you run a homebased child-care business, safety should be your number-one priority. Keep your doors locked throughout the day, provide only age-appropriate toys, feed only acceptable food that would not be a choking hazard, and keep your household pets away from the children in your care. Be sure the children know they are not allowed to open the door, and never open the door yourself to someone you don’t know.

Preventing and dealing with injuries

The risk of an injury happening is directly related to the physical environment and children’s behaviors, and how these are managed. Injuries can be divided into two categories—unintentional and intentional. Unintentional injuries may result from choking, falls, burns, drowning, swallowing toxic or other materials (poisoning), cuts, exposure to environmental hazards (such as chemicals, radon, or lead), animal bites, or other accidents. Intentional injuries are usually due to bites, fights, or abuse.

You can prevent most injuries that occur in the child-care setting by:

  • Supervising children carefully
  • Checking the child-care and play areas for, and getting rid of, hazards
  • Using safety equipment for children, such as car seats and seat belts, bicycle helmets, and padding, such as for the knees and elbows
  • Understanding what children can do at different stages of development. Children learn by testing their abilities. They should be allowed to participate in activities appropriate for their development even though these activities may result in some minor injuries, such as scrapes and bruises. However, children should be prevented from taking part in activities or using equipment that is beyond their abilities and that may result in major injuries, such as broken bones.
  • Teaching children how to use playground equipment safely (e.g., going down the slide feet first)

When an injury does occur, it requires immediate action. You will need to assess the injury to determine what type of medical attention, if any, is required. Everyone working with children should have up-to-date training in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). At a minimum, one person with this training must be present at the child-care site at all times. If the injury is serious, call 911 or your local emergency number. Administer any other appropriate first aid or medical treatment and notify the parent. Record all injuries on a standard form developed for that purpose.

Expect that injuries will occur, no matter how careful you are. That’s why you need first-aid kits, training, reporting procedures, etc. You should have information on each child’s medical care providers, such as the doctor, dentist, and hospital the parents prefer. There may be times when a trip to the emergency room is not necessary, but you may be asked to take the child to a doctor. Or the child may be taken to the emergency room, and the medical staff there finds that a consultation with the patient’s primary care physician would be helpful.

Though most parents are reasonable and understanding if their child suffers a minor injury during the day, some will not be. One owner we talked to shared the story of a youngster who got a minor cut, and when the mother came to pick up the child and take her to the doctor, she said, “I’m going to sue. I’m an attorney, I know how these things work, and I’m going to get some money out of this for my child’s college education.” That’s where your insurance coverage comes in.