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Making Childcare Safe for Children and Providers
Authors: Rajeswari Natrajan with Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D., CFLE

You are probably in the childcare business because it can be very rewarding. However, childcare can also be stressful and challenging. It is important to make childcare a safe place for children. It is sad that some people believe that child abuse is common in childcare centers. That is not true. Child abuse does occur in childcare settings, but not often. But parents may have heard rumors about childcare and child abuse. They may be worried about leaving their children in childcare. They also may not trust what is going on in the childcare. Some parents may even make untrue reports about abuse and neglect in the childcare program. So, it is important for childcare providers to take steps to prevent child abuse and to protect themselves from false reports.

Some guidelines for preventing child abuse in childcare settings

• In most states, it is against the law to use physical discipline in childcare. Do not hit or shake children in your care. Do not use any kind of physical discipline. Do not hit a child even in play. Learn positive discipline methods.

• Try to have another adult with you whenever you can. Try not to be alone with one child, especially if the child’s behavior is very difficult. Another adult might help you calm down. Together, you might come up with more ideas on how to handle the situation. Besides, it is good to have a witness, if something were to happen. For example, a child might be acting out and get hurt in the process. It is good to have a witness who can explain how the child got hurt and that you did nothing wrong.

• Know the children. Know what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable. Respect the child’s limits. For example, not all children like to be hugged. Make sure that you ask if it is OK before you hug a child. Sometimes a child might say that a hug is OK, but you see something different in her body language. For example, she might pull back when you come close to her. Her body might be stiff and tense when you hug her. This could mean that the child does not want the physical contact. Let the child know that some hugs are OK, and others are not. Tell her it is OK to say no to a hug. Talk about other ways you could let her know that you care. You could put your hand around her shoulder, give her a sticker, or tell her you are proud of her.

• You have personal limits, too. Some children like to hug a lot. They might want to sit on your lap. They may want to do these things all the time. Sometimes you may not feel comfortable giving hugs, or it may just be too much. Tell the child in a gentle way that you would like him to ask if he could have a hug or sit in your lap. Talk about other things he could do when those actions are not appropriate.

• Try to get to know the children in your care at a personal level. Think of something that you like in each one of them. With some children this is hard. It may help to spend some special time with each child. It also can help to talk with the child’s parents. Find ways that the child is special. This will help you become friends with each child. That can be very helpful when the child breaks the rules or has a bad day. You can be more patient. The child may behave better, too, when you are more positive.

• When you are stressed, tired, or angry, try to step back. Take a deep breath. You might want to find another adult or childcare worker to take your place for a few minutes so you can take a quick break. Go somewhere to calm down and start over. If you work alone, make sure you have someone to help you sometimes. It might help just to know that you could call someone to help.

• Sometimes you may try to calm down, but it doesn’t work. You may still be stressed and angry. If this happens, talk with your director. If you are working from your home or by yourself, find a support person. Your director or support person might give you a break. She might help you look at things in a new way. Or she might have other ideas about what you can do to care for the children. Sometimes the problem is burnout. You may have worked very hard, and you are running out of energy. Maybe you don’t care any more. In that case, you should find support or maybe even look for a new job.

• Working with children may be very demanding. Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Take breaks at regular times. Eat healthy food and get exercise. Learn new ways to relax. Tell jokes. Play with the children.

• Keep learning about children and about your job. Know what you can expect from children at different ages and stages. Make sure they will be able to do what you expect from them. Watch them closely and see what they are ready to learn next.

Protect yourself from false reports and charges

Child-to-Staff Ratio: Keep track of numbers. Know how many children you may have and how many adults need to be with the children. Then you should be able to take good care of the children and keep them safe. Sometimes the rules let you take care of more children than you think you can really handle. You may want to set lower limits for yourself than the rules allow. Caring for too many children can make staff tired and burn them out. If they are too tired, they could hurt the children. Know what the rules are in your area and for your kind of care. Also know your personal limits. You can find out more about laws for childcare in Indiana and in other states.

Watch the Children Closely: Make sure that you can hear and see the children at all times. You should be able to see and hear them even when they are sleeping. Never leave children alone. Count the number of children often to make sure they are all there. Counting is very important, especially when you take children from one place to another. The guidelines might be a little different with school-age children. They might want to play outside by themselves. If they are ready for that, make sure you get their parents’ written permission. Be very careful if you take children on field trips or to a swimming pool. Most states have guidelines you need to follow for those activities.

Staffing: If you hire other childcare workers in your program, check out job applicants closely. Call the people they list as references. Ask about their backgrounds. Ask the applicants about all the other places they have worked. Checking the person’s history carefully may uncover either good or bad patterns of childcare behaviors. When you talk to people who know her background, ask if there were any complaints about how she cared for children. Ask about how she disciplined children. You should also check if the applicant is old enough and has the right training. Look for more information about these requirements in Indiana and other states.

Parent Involvement: You also can guard yourself against abuse reports and charges by keeping your doors open to parents. Invite parents to visit your childcare program at any time while their children are there. Include this in your written policy and contract with the parents. Every day tell parents how and what their children did. Be sure to tell parents when you change discipline methods. Tell them, too, if you see a health need or problem. Ask parents what they think works best with their children. Talk with parents every day. Also have regular, planned meetings with each set of parents and talk to them about their children. Address any questions or concerns they might have. Some issues you can discuss during the individual meetings are:
   • the child’s development
   • fitting into the childcare program
   • discipline
   • behavior problems
   • special needs
   • health issues

You can take notes at these planned meetings. Both you and the parents can sign the notes. This will be a record that you and the parents agree about how you care for their child.


For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

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