Safety In The Childcare Setting
Allison Lee has written this book as a companion to her first book Starting Your Own Childminding Business. She has been minding children herself for over 11 years and is employed part-time by the National Childminding Association as a Support Childminder giving help and advice to other practitioners. Allison has also written childminding courses for ISC Learning Direct and for UK Open-Learning Direct.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SAFETY
As I have previously mentioned, safety is one of the factors embodied by the UN Convention. All children have the right to be kept safe and it is your duty as a childminder to ensure that the children in your care are not exposed to any unnecessary dangers whilst in your setting. Deciding on safety measures in your home is not always easy and it is not simply a case of eliminating potential problems such as placing guards around fires, which in the main are common sense measures. You also need to anticipate a child’s moves and see things from their perspective. When caring for children you need to be on your guard at all times and be aware of any potential hazards which may pose a threat in your particular setting.
Standard 6 of the English National Standards, to which all childminders in England must conform, states ‘the registered person takes positive steps to promote safety within the setting and on outings and ensures proper precautions are taken to prevent accidents’.
I cannot stress enough that you can never have too many safety measures in place. True, children need to explore their environment and, to a certain extent, they need to discover and learn things for themselves. However it is not acceptable for a child to suffer serious injury whilst they are doing so. You have a responsibility to protect the children in your care and you must do this to the very best of your ability. It is not acceptable to be lax when it comes to safety and although accidents can take only seconds to occur the consequences of them can last a lifetime. There is a fine line between allowing a child freedom to explore and protecting them from injury, and you must make a professional judgement as to just how much a child should be expected to know.
Young children have no understanding of danger and do not think about the consequences their actions may have. This is why you have to think for them. Supervision is paramount. Adequate supervision should be given to children at all times and this is probably the most important safety procedure you can follow. Without adequate supervision all the safety measures in the world will not prevent a child from harming themselves.
ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR PROMOTING SAFETY IN THE HOME
Safety needs to be considered in a variety of ways including:
- 1.Safety in the home.
- 2.Equipment safety.
- 3.Safety in the garden.
- 4.Safety on trips and outings.
- 5.Safety in the car.
- 6.Safety around animals and pets.
- 7.Safety at mealtimes.
- 8.Food hygiene.
- 9.Personal hygiene.
- 10.Stranger danger.
In addition to the above issues you also need to be aware of how to prevent accidents. We will look closely at each of these points next.
1. Safety in the home
Children love to explore, of this there is little doubt. Things which may seem of little consequence to us such as a trailing flex, a bookshelf or a potted house plant, pose potential hazards to a young child. However it is impossible to eliminate every single item which may pose a danger to children bar encompassing them in a padded cell empty of any toys or equipment, and you should not be striving to ‘wrap them up in cotton wool’. What you should be trying to achieve is a safe environment, as free from potential dangers as possible where the child can play and learn in a well supervised, safe environment.
In order to achieve this inside the home you need to assess the areas which you use when caring for children and look at all the potential dangers carefully, eliminating each one where possible. Every room in the house will pose some kind of a threat to young children and it is best to look at each room separately to ascertain which hazards need to be addressed.
Lounge, dining room, sitting room and playroom
These are the areas where children will probably be spending most of their time and as such you should be extra vigilant when assessing for potential hazards. It may be a good idea to get down on your hands and knees and see your setting from a young child’s view point. Trailing flexes are easy to miss from an adult’s height but, once you drop to your knees, you will instantly see the dangers these flexes can pose if they wrap around a child’s neck or trip them up if their legs become entangled in them. Other potential hazards you should look out for include:
- Heating appliances. Fires should be fitted with an appropriate guard and radiators should not be allowed to get so hot that they burn if touched. If necessary radiator covers should be fitted.
- Glass. If your living areas have glass doors or windows which are low then these must be fitted with safety or laminated glass. Safety or glass film must be fitted to glass cabinets, coffee tables etc if these are accessible to children.
- Electric sockets. When not in use all electric sockets which are within a child’s reach should be fitted with socket covers.
- Blinds. Ensure that any cords are kept well out of the reach of children who have been known to become entangled in them and strangled.
- Televisions, DVDs and video recorders. All electrical appliances should be safe from prying fingers and, ideally, guards should be fitted to prevent children from posting toys and other objects into video slots.
- Rugs and mats. Make sure that these are not frayed and cannot be tripped over.
- House plants. Keep plants out of the reach of children and avoid any poisonous varieties particularly at Christmas time when people are tempted to purchase mistletoe and holly.
- Table cloths. Always make sure that these do not dangle over the edge of the table enabling a child to pull the contents on top of them.
- Ornaments. Avoid placing ornaments within reach of children and never place objects on low window ledges. Small trinkets should be placed well out of the reach of children.
- Toys. Make sure that toys and play equipment are in a good, clean state of repair. Toys with missing or broken parts should be either repaired or replaced. Always look for appropriate safety labels and make sure children do not play with toys that are not suitable for their age, particularly if they contain small parts which may pose a choking hazard.
Kitchens are especially hazardous to children and they should not be allowed to play in the kitchen at any time. Children should always be supervised by an adult when in the kitchen. Pay particular attention to:
- Cookers. Make sure that children are not at risk of burning from hot oven doors and that they cannot reach pans on the hob. Always turn pan handles inwards.
- Glass cabinets. Safety or laminated glass must be used or safety film fitted to all glass door cabinets.
- Electrical sockets. If not in use, sockets should be fitted with appropriate covers.
- Fridges and freezers. Locks should be fitted to prevent access to children.
- Knives. Always store knives out of the reach and sight of children, preferably in a locked cupboard.
- Kettles. Always ensure that kettles are pushed to the back of the work surface and that no flexes are trailing down.
- Toasters. Again these should be pushed toward the back of the work surface and all flexes stored out of children’s reach.
- Drawers and cupboards. These should be fitted with locks where necessary and dangerous items such as knives, scissors, string, plastic bags, medicines and cleaning materials should be stored in cupboards high up and out of the reach of children.
- Dishwashers. Always make sure that these are closed and, when stacking them, place knives and other sharp objects point down to avoid a child falling onto them. Ideally children should not be around when you are loading and unloading the dishwasher.
- Washing machines and tumble driers. Keep the doors to these appliances firmly closed at all times and, where possible fit, and use, safety locks.
If necessary, consider investing in a safety gate or child proof barrier in order to prevent children from accessing the kitchen area without your knowledge.
Halls, stairs and landings
These areas may be particularly appealing to children as they can climb on banisters, jump down stairs, and so on. What may seem like a good way of playing to a child, may in fact be potentially dangerous. Consider aspects such as:
- Stair gates. These should always be used at both the top and the bottom of a flight of stairs. Ideally you should fit a type of gate which opens rather than one which requires you to ‘step over’ it as these pose potential dangers for tripping and falling particularly if installed at the top of a flight of stairs.
Pay particular attention to the following safety aspects in the bedrooms:
- Glass windows and doors. Safety or laminated glass should be fitted or safety film used.
- Electrical sockets. When not in use these should be fitted with appropriate covers.
- Cupboards and drawers. Always ensure that medicines, toiletries and cosmetics are stored out of the sight and reach of children.
Bathrooms can be very dangerous places for children and, although children should not be allowed to play in bathrooms you should use your judgement with regard to supervision in this room, bearing in mind the child’s age and their need for privacy.
- Water. The temperature of the water should be set appropriately so as not to scald children when they wash their hands.
- Medicine and bathroom cabinets. Medicines should be stored out of children’s reach and cabinets fitted with suitable locks.
- Toilet seats/steps. Toilet seats, which fit over the usual adult seat to enable young children to sit comfortably on the toilet, need to fit securely and be free from cracks or splits. Provide a suitable step to enable the child to reach the toilet safely without having to climb.
- Changing mats. These should be clean and free from splits or tears.
Hygiene in the bathroom must be excellent and you will need to ensure that this area is kept scrupulously clean, particularly if a number of young children are using the facilities every day. Remember to clean the whole of the toilet, around the rim and the handle in addition to the seat.
Of course safety measures are not simply restricted to the rooms in our homes. We must also ensure that the equipment we use and the toys we provide are safe and free from potential hazards.
2. Equipment safety
- Highchairs. These must be clean and in a good state of repair. Always wipe down highchairs after each use with a suitable disinfectant solution to remove any traces of food particles. Check highchairs regularly for loose or worn parts and always use correctly fitted reins to strap the child securely into the highchair.
- Pushchairs. These must be in a good state of repair. Check regularly for loose or worn parts and, again, correctly fitted reins must always be used.
- Car seats. These must be adjusted and fitted into the car correctly to be effective. Never leave a child sat in a car seat on top of a table or chair. Always place them on the floor, away from hazards.
- Potties/toilet seats. These must be kept scrupulously clean and free from cracks and splits. After use, the contents of potties should be flushed down the toilet and a suitable disinfectant solution used to clean them. Never empty urine down the sink.
- Changing mats. These must be kept scrupulously clean and free from splits and tears which could harbour germs and bacteria. Mats should be wiped down with a disinfectant solution after each use.
- Baby walkers. These can be very dangerous as babies can easily overbalance them. Evidence suggests that baby walkers, far from encouraging children to walk, may actually hinder their development and childminders are advised not to use this item of equipment.
- Beds and cots. Children can fall out of beds and cots and it is for this reason that they should be seen as potential areas for accidents. Check that cots with sides which slide down are securely fastened to avoid being undone by young children. Consider using rails fitted to the side of beds to avoid children from falling out, however bear in mind that some children see these rails as potential climbing frames! Top bunks should never be used for young children. Ensure that all mattresses fit the cots and beds snugly to prevent children from slipping down between them and the bars or frames. Pillows should never be used for children under the age of 18 months.
- Fire equipment. All childminders must ensure that smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and fire blankets are fitted in their homes and that these are checked regularly. Fire extinguishers and blankets should be placed in prominent places and you should be confident using them. Test smoke alarms regularly and replace batteries when necessary.
3. Safety in the garden
Outside areas can be very hazardous for children and it is your duty as a childminder to eliminate as many of these potential hazards as possible. Think carefully about the outside space that you have and plan carefully the best way to utilise this space. If your garden is large enough, you may like to fence off a specific area which can be designated specifically for the children you care for. If you are fortunate enough to have this option you should be able to create a well planned area which is completely child friendly.
If you are starting from scratch think about safety measures such as:
- Using bark around swings, climbing frames and slides to cushion any tumbles and falls the children may experience.
- Planting fragrant, visual plants and flowers which could form a ‘sensory’ garden for any child with impairments. You will be able to source plants, trees and shrubs which are safe for children and avoid the common poisonous plants such as daffodil bulbs, hyacinths and ivy which most gardens tend to have!
- Appropriate fencing to ensure that children are kept securely when playing outdoors and cannot access roads, greenhouses, water butts, drains or other hazards.
- Creating a large covered area for sand. Children love to build and experiment with sand and sand pits are very appealing. Unfortunately they are not simply appealing to children; every cat in the neighbourhood will use it as a toilet if not covered securely!
It does not have to be very expensive to create a special child friendly outdoor area nor does the area have to very large. Providing the children are safe and can take part in outdoor activities you can let your imagination run wild.
Don’t despair if you are not fortunate to have the space to create a separate area for the children and you find yourself having to make the most of what you have and adapting it to provide a suitable, safe ‘playground’. The most important thing you must do is ensure that the children cannot access:
- ponds or water features;
- water butts;
- compost heaps;
- hazardous plants;
- garden sheds;
- garden tools or machinery;
- clothes lines;
4. Safety on trips and outings
Ensuring that children are safe is not only a necessity whilst you are on your own childminding premises. It is your responsibility, as a childminder, to make certain that the children in your care are safe and free from harm at all times, and this includes while you are taking or collecting them from playgroup, nursery or school, visiting the playground, shops or library, enjoying a day in the park or simply going for a walk. All of these trips and outings pose potential threats to young children and you must think carefully about the ages and stages of development of the children in your care and make suitable arrangements for their safety. Consider the following recommendations:
- Use reins or wrist straps for young children to prevent them from running off or getting lost. They are particularly useful if you are on a busy road or in a crowded place.
- Teach older children the ‘Green Cross Code’ and make sure they use it.
- Talk about road safety to younger children and show them how to cross roads safely, that is to stop, look and listen and never to cross between parked cars.
- Always take a mobile telephone and contact details of the children with you so that you can contact parents in the unfortunate event of an accident.
- Apply sun cream and hats in hot weather and ensure that babies and children are appropriately covered in ordered to prevent sunburn.
- Consider taking a travel first aid kit with you when out and about to use in the case of minor accidents.
- On hot days always take an adequate supply of water.
When out walking make sure you use zebra or pelican crossings to cross roads whenever possible and, when walking alongside roads, ensure that children walk on the inside, away from the traffic. On narrow paths when it is not possible to walk side by side, children should walk in front of you so that you can see them at all times and you should walk facing the oncoming traffic.
5. Safety in the car
- Always ensure that you have insurance to cover the use of your car as part of your childminding business when transporting children.
- When travelling by car, always put children in or take them out of the car on the kerb side of the road to keep them away from other vehicles.
- Always use appropriate child seats and ensure that these are fitted in the car correctly. Make sure each child has their own seat and that they are securely fastened in it.
- Passengers should never exceed the number of seats available in the car and children should not be allowed to travel on an adult’s knee.
- Never leave children alone and unsupervised in a car, not even for short periods of time.
- Always turn off the engine whilst you are packing or unpacking the vehicle.
- Never leave children unattended on the pavement whilst you are packing the car with shopping or putting the pushchair into the boot. Always strap the children in the car first and then load the car so that you can be sure that they are safe and not tempted to wander off.
- Use child safety locks to ensure that doors can only be opened from the outside to prevent children from opening them whilst the car is in motion.
- Never buy a second-hand car seat as it may:
6. Safety around animals and pets
Although it is important not to unduly frighten or worry children around animals and pets you should always make sure that they are aware of the potential dangers they may pose. Quite often adults can unwittingly pass their own fears of certain animals onto their children. I have witnessed several occasions when a parent who is afraid of horses or dogs has unintentionally conditioned their children to have the same fear. They may do this by avoiding the animal they themselves are afraid of or by telling their child frightening stories of their own experiences. This is not advisable. Whenever possible avoid using scare tactics in order to teach children caution; instead teach children how to act sensibly around animals and pets and to take care not to startle or hurt them.
Some children may well have pets of their own at home and feel no fear whatsoever towards dogs the size of a small donkey, whilst others may be fearful of even the smallest of breeds. Always make sure you are sensitive to each individual child’s feelings and never force a child to stroke a dog if they are not happy to do so. Ridiculing a child or making them feel inadequate because of their fear is not acceptable. Forcing a child to befriend an animal they are not entirely comfortable around may cause them undue stress and add to their fears.
It is always advisable to warn children of the potential dangers that pets and animals pose, but do so in words appropriate to their age and understanding. A child who loves dogs and perhaps even has a pet dog will probably happily stroke one she meets whilst out and about. However, much as the dog may be friendly this may not always be the case and the child needs to understand that it is not a good idea to stroke any dog they meet but perhaps only those they know well so that you can both be sure that the dog is not going to growl or bite.
Horses can also be attractive to young children who will invariably want to stroke and feed them. If you are going to allow the children to feed them make sure you are familiar with the horses yourself and that they are happy around young children and will not bite. Show the children how to hold the apple, carrot or grass: on the palm of a flat hand to avoid unintentional chewing of the fingers!
There are of course many types of animals and pets that you and the children you care for may come into contact with at some point, but the most important things to remember are:
- If you own a pet dog or cat make sure that they are regularly wormed and treated for fleas and that they are up to date with any necessary inoculations.
- Never feed dogs at the table.
- Never allow children to play near feeding bowls.
- Teach your dog not to jump up.
- Do not allow young children to handle pets roughly.
- Remind children that pets are not toys and that it is possible to hurt them unintentionally.
- Always make sure that everyone who has handled pets, animals or their feeding bowls washes their hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Discourage children from kissing pets.
- Do not allow pets to lick faces.
7. Safety at mealtimes
Mealtime safety is not something that a lot of people give much consideration to in the same way as we think about other aspects of safety, but mealtimes can pose a threat to young children if they are not adequately supervised. You are probably already aware of the necessity to ensure that the food you serve to babies and very young children without teeth should be soft enough for them to swallow and digest. Yet, choking is not confined to babies and very small children. Children of any age can choke if they try to swallow something without chewing properly as it may become lodged in the throat and block the airway.
Grapes are particularly hazardous and there have been several cases reported of young children choking to death on grapes. Whole grapes should never be given to a small child; always cut the grapes in halves or quarters so that they do not become lodged in the throat. Peanuts are another particularly dangerous food to feed young children and you should never offer these as they can easily cause choking or, if inhaled into the lungs, can cause infection and lung damage.
Young children should be supervised closely at mealtimes. Be particularly vigilant when encouraging them to try finger foods as they will often cram food into their mouths rather than bite off a piece. Food such as bread and cake can then become dry and stodgy and difficult to chew so the child may try to swallow which can result in choking.
Checklist to avoid choking:
- Always supervise children at mealtimes.
- Be extra vigilant when children are trying finger foods such as banana, carrot, apple, etc.
- Offer small pieces of food rather than whole amounts as children are prone to cramming food into their mouths rather than biting a piece off.
- Never prop babies up with a feeding bottle - always hold them whilst they are feeding.
- Make sure that children are sat at a table when eating and drinking, and do not allow them to wander around with cups or cutlery.
8. Food hygiene
Food hygiene is a very important part of a childminder’s daily routine. You not only need to know how to prepare and cook food safely but also how to store it. Good food hygiene is essential for the prevention of food poisoning. The very old and the very young are particularly vulnerable to the bacteria which causes food poisoning, also known as gastroenteritis. Anyone who has suffered from gastroenteritis will know that some of the symptoms suffered range from diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, headaches, stomach cramps and nausea. At best you could be laid up in bed for a few days, at worst, food poisoning can be fatal.
Bacteria thrive in moist, warm foods rich in protein such as:
- prepared dishes containing egg;
- soups and gravy.
Bacteria thrives best at body temperature (37°C). It multiplies quickly, particularly in fresh foods, and cannot always be recognised as it may not cause the food to appear bad or to smell or taste unpleasant.
It is estimated that there are about four times more food poisoning incidents as a result of food prepared in the home than there are from food prepared on commercial premises such as restaurants and hotels. Every food business has a responsibility to make sure that the food they provide is fit for human consumption. As a childminder, if you provide food for the children you care for, you are running a food business. As such you are required to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995 and certain parts of your home, i.e. food storage, preparation and cooking areas, will be eligible for inspection.
When storing food always:
- Keep food cold. Use a thermometer in your fridge to ensure that the temperature is always between 1-5°C). Be extra careful in the hot summer months or when the fridge is at its fullest. Avoid opening the fridge door often as this allows warm air to enter and alter the temperature of the interior.
- Make sure that food is cold before you place it in the fridge. Cooked food should be cooled quickly and then placed in the fridge.
- Store foods carefully to avoid cross-contamination. Raw food should be stored at the bottom of the fridge to prevent blood and juices from meat dripping onto other foodstuffs.
- Use cling film or other food wrap to cover food before placing it in the fridge.
- Make sure you clearly label and date food stored in the freezer and never be tempted to use foodstuffs which have passed their use by dates.
- Do not re-freeze anything which has been defrosted.
When preparing food always:
- Wash your hands before touching any foodstuff. Use warm soapy water and a clean towel.
- Never cough or sneeze near food or preparation areas.
- Make sure any cuts or other injuries are covered appropriately with a waterproof dressing.
- It is illegal for childminders to smoke whilst working with children. If you are preparing food for their consumption when they are not present, remember that it is still illegal to smoke in any room that is used for food preparation.
- Make sure you wear a clean apron.
- Make sure your kitchen is spotlessly clean, including work surfaces, utensils, cloths, floors, fridges, microwaves, toasters, grills, ovens, dishwashers, dustbins, etc.
- Do not allow pets near food preparation areas.
- Keep flies and other insects away - pay particular attention to this in the summer months. Use mesh or other suitable coverings over windows in food preparation areas.
- Keep waste bins covered and do not allow them to become over filled. Empty them regularly.
When cooking food always:
- Follow the instructions carefully and cook food thoroughly.
- Keep the oven spotlessly clean and wipe up spills immediately.
- Avoid eating leftovers - these are a particularly common cause of food poisoning.
- Avoid re-heating food.
9. Personal hygiene
Children should be taught good personal hygiene methods. One of the most important things you can do to encourage children to practise personal hygiene is to provide them with a good role model. Make sure you yourself follow good practice and set high standards for your own personal hygiene.
Children are more likely to develop infections than adults for several reasons:
- Their immune systems have not developed and will be immature.
- They may lack good personal hygiene standards.
- They need to be taught the necessity of frequently washing hands.
Although you should not be too worried about hygiene to the extent that you become obsessive, you do need to teach children about the importance of cleanliness and maintaining a personal hygiene routine. Teach children to:
- Wash their hands frequently especially after:
visiting the toilet;
- Teach children the importance of having their own hairbrush and toothbrush.
When following your own high personal hygiene standards make sure you take particular care when:
- Changing nappies or cleaning up other waste like vomit. Always wear protective gloves and an apron and dispose of the waste carefully in a sealed bag, before placing in an outside dustbin.
- Use a suitable disinfectant solution to wash down the infected area or changing mat.
10. Stranger danger
Whilst it is important to teach children the dangers of ‘stranger danger’, it is equally important to ensure that you do not unduly frighten them whilst doing so! Children do need to know the possible dangers they may come across and what to do if they are ever in a situation which they cannot handle. Firstly, it is important to help children to understand exactly what a stranger is.
Strangers may be:
- normal everyday people;
- both men and women;
- friendly and approachable.
Strangers may appear perfectly ‘normal’. They are not necessarily dirty, weird or creepy, nor do they always act suspiciously. Although paedophiles are usually men, some women have been known to abuse children. Paedophiles do not fall into a particular ‘category’ and can come from all walks of life, professions and religious or racial backgrounds.
- ask for advice or directions;
- offer lifts;
- offer sweets or money;
- ask for assistance in finding something they have ‘lost’ such as a dog/purse/keys, etc.
Paedophiles look for their victims by hanging around the kinds of places children are likely to be such as:
- shopping centres;
- amusement arcades;
- theme parks;
- recreational parks;
- swimming baths.
Strangers to be wary of may be on foot or in a car. The important thing to teach children is never to go with someone they do not know no matter how genuine they appear to be or how plausible their request.
Checklist to help protect children from stranger danger:
- Teach children that they should never go off with anyone without telling the grown-up who is responsible for them. This includes people they know well and trust.
- Teach children to tell the adult who is responsible for them if they have been approached by a stranger and make sure that they realise that it is not their fault.
- Teach children that it is alright to kick, scream, shout and create loud noises if they feel threatened.
- Teach children what to do in the event that they may become separated from you or the adult they are with.
- When a child is old enough, teach them important facts such as their address and telephone number.
Children should be aware of who they can approach if they feel scared, threatened or if someone tries to entice them away. Make children aware that it is safe to approach:
- a police officer in uniform;
- a traffic warden;
- a security guard;
- a shop assistant;
- an adult who has other children with them.
If children get lost teach them to go into a shop or a place with lots of people. Tell them they must never go into a house, office, telephone booth, etc. with anyone. Make sure they are aware that they must never get into a car or accept a lift from anyone.