Summer Camps and Vacations Are Around The Corner….Do These Things to Keep Your Children Safe!
With the heat and fun of summer time arriving, school is out and children start summer programs at Daycare, School Aged Care and amazing summer day camps. These are so much fun and create such wonderful memories for the kiddos. They get to go on field trips to swimming pools, corn mazes, public parks, possibly the zoo, and a myriad of other great group activities that are off the safe premises of the building they attend.
During the weekday, when I am not writing, I work full time for Children’s Services. My role is to monitor and licence child care programs and conduct investigations when things go wrong while a child is in care at a childcare centre.
Summer can be a nightmare for the team in my office as it becomes a common occurrence for children in care programs to injure themselves or go missing while they attend offsite activities. Annually we have programs calling to report that they had a “missing child” while away at the zoo, or at lakes or pools, and in 99% of the incidents reported, it could have been avoided by effective supervision, teaching the children rules, and by being proactive prior to departing on their adventure, from the program.
As a parent, I cannot stress enough, that the first concern you should have is the Supervision plan for leaving the program premises; how many adults will be caring for how many children? Ask questions and never “assume” that all of the staff is professional and dilligent in caring for your child. I don’t want to freak you out, but not all daycare staff are “quality” staff. They may be great with children, but how do they handle emergencies like injuries or cases when a child leaves the group unseen and wanders off?
The second priority is to make sure you KNOW the method of transportation that the program is using to get from Point A to Point B. Some programs will use city transit to transport children, in which case, how do they keep track of the children in care, amidst the other regular passengers? We have some daycares that put their children on the “train system” in our city of over 1,000,000 people. To me, as a professional, that is TOO RISKY and should never be an option. We have had cases where a child falls asleep in the seat, unseen by the staff of the program and they shuffle the group off. The train leaves as soon as the “last” child gets off, staff counts heads and the train is already gone by the time they realize they are 1 child short. Scary right?
If the program staff is all female, who supervises the boys in change rooms and bathrooms? Lets face it, we live in a messed up world and things can happen in places like public washrooms and change areas. Typically a daycare program will only have females on staff, so as a parent of boys, who helps them? What happens if there is an injury or incident in the boy’s washroom and how is it handled or how can it be avoided?
Do you spend time at home teaching your children what to say if he or she gets lost? Who should they talk to or avoid? Do you make a plan with them at the local beach, for example, that if they get lost they are to look for a lifeguard or for a beach shack where they can ask for help? Do you visit the beach with them before they go on a trip with their friends and teachers to point out the “safe zones”? If you don’t have this as an option, what kind of “safety plan” do the teachers of the program give them before they leave?
A few tips I have learned over my years in my profession, from the parent’s perspective are these:
- Always make sure you ask the program EVERY question you have regarding your child’s safety.
- Have the ability to communicate with the program, even while they are on field trips, (i.e text message, email, phone call etc) . You never know if your child’s bus or other mode of transport is behind due to traffic, or if you will be late to pick your child up. Always make sure you have an Emergency Contact for your child in case the program cannot contact you. Make sure the Emergency Contact has a Name, Phone number, Address and relationship to child. Also, MAKE SURE YOUR CHILD KNOWS THE CONTACT. If you send your neighbor to pick up your child and the child has no idea they are “allowed” to go home with them, it will cause undo stress and confusion for the child.
- This one is also VERY IMPORTANT. If you know your child is going offsite with a group of other children, TAKE A PHOTO OF YOUR CHILD BEFORE HE/SHE LEAVES for the program that morning. If anything, God forbid, were to happen and your child goes missing, you now have an identifying photo of what they are wearing, how their hair is done, and what they look like while on their field trip. Text the photo to your child’s daycare staff “just in case”. If you KNOW your child has a tendancy to walk off and wander, or run away because of anxiety to situations that are new, or even from embarrassment, you now have a photo of who to look for and what they were wearing.( You also have a new photo of your child, as a bonus, to share in their memory book later).
- If your child has allergies or needs emergency medications for other health issues, ALWAYS double check with the program staff to ensure they KNOW what the child requires the medication for, how often, what dosage, and what to do in the event of an emergency. Have an open and honest dialogue with the program staff and make sure more than 1 adult knows all of the health concerns of your child. (Epipens for example. Make sure the staff know how to operate it, unless your child can do it themself)
- Do NOT accept a “blanket form” for Field trip and/or Transportation permission. Often times, childcare staff will post a form on the wall, with brief information about their activities for the week and they ask you to “sign up” for what your child will be attending. Ask for a separate field trip consent form for ONLY Your child. It should have the following information on it and if it doesn’t, ask them:
- Time of field trip, Time of return
- Method of Transportation-bus, van etc. Are any staff taking their own vehicles in case of emergency?
- Supervision Plan (how many staff , what their qualifications are and how many children. Are there both female and male adults attending)
- A space to fill in health information such as allergies, diabetes/ epilepsy information etc. and what needs to be done in the event of a health concern while off premise
- Address of where they are going and name of place
- Program staff should give you contact phone numbers while offsite (cell phone numbers for staff) and/ or phone number of location in case of emergencies of the parent
- Information for nearest Hospital or Urgent Care in case of any emergency where your child may be taken.
- A space for your signature, that is consent for your child to attend the activity
I am not trying to make you have second thoughts of your child having a fun, educational summer while they are participating in amazing activities. The goal here, is to make parents aware of the risks that are involved when sending your precious babies away to locales with the care staff that you trust them with.
In my years of working for Children’s Services, throughout the summer, we have had children go missing at lake beaches, we have had a child fall asleep on a public transit train and get lost until a staff who brought their own vehicle, picked her up at the second stop away. We have had a child who broke their collarbone playing in an outdoor park and then was transported by bus with the injury for an entire hour. Staff did not take the child to the nearest health centre and weren’t certifed enough to detect the break. We also have had a child who was embarrassed, as she peed her pants, and snuck away from the group, and was lost for 2 hours. There was an incident where a child didn’t like the Science Centre and decided to go home. He got on a City bus and went over 8 miles, got off and was waiting on his parent’s locked doorstep crying for over 3 hours. He was 5 years old and it was close to 100 degrees F that day.
These are just some examples of what can happen. Even if your child is the “most well behaved” child in the universe, transitions to new areas with essentialy strangers can wreak havoc on their thinking processes. Preparing your child for any and all risks and safety measures is not entirely the responsibility of the staff at the programs. Keep in mind, that many “summer camp” teachers, are still kids themselves, and this is their summer job.
Children need to experience the fun and social experiences with their peers and explore our wonderful world, but this world is not as safe as it used to be. Children are vulnerable when their parents are not with them and being in strange places can be intimidating, or scary to them.
Let them go and have fun. Let them be kids and go to the zoo, the corn mazes and the pool. But teach them how to stay safe, and have an open relationship with the adults that you leave your your children with.
Have a fantastic and fun summer. Make memories to last a life time
AND BE SAFE!