Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Child Custody Orders – What Am I Supposed to Do with THIS?

As providers of child care, we often get entangled in family dynamics and family crises.  It is not unusual for a child care provider to be the point of transition for a child from one parent’s care to the other.  For example, mom has the child all week, but dad picks them up from care on Friday night.  There are so many different arrangements, there are too many to list here.  What is important for you, is that you have a copy of the visitation/supervision court orders...AND you know what to do with it.

Shared Custody/Supervision:

If you require a certified copy of all custody orders, it will save you from not knowing what to do when one parent arrives to get the children – you sign them out, and at the usual time the other parent comes to get their children only to find that you have released them.  

If the biological parents are not together – it is a good idea to have their custody arrangement provided in writing.  If they don’t have a “court ordered” arrangement, you can ask that they write it out and both sign it.  Anytime they want to modify the arrangement you can require that you get a new copy that is dated and signed by both parents.  

Sole Custody Orders:

A sole custody order is given by a court of law.  It will be an official and enforceable court order that will state the child’s name, parent’s names and the terms of the order.  These are critical to keep in the child’s file in the facility – and for all employees to be aware.  

No Contact Orders: 

A no contact order is also very important to have and to be knowledgeable about.  No contact orders might be in relation to one or both parents.  These are not uncommon and are very important.  There is always a compelling reason why a parent’s parental rights have been modified by a court.  It is critical that all staff know these orders are in place, what the order states, who is allowed to pick up the child, who is ordered no contact, etc.  

These are just a few examples of court orders or formal parenting arrangements that you need to be aware of as a child care provider.  It is your responsibility to ensure the child goes from your care into the care of the correct person.
Image courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=659

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Child Protection at Drop Off and Pick Up

Do your employees know what to do if a parent/guardian appears in your program impaired by drugs or alcohol?  Do you know what to do? It is critically important to train your employees on how to handle these situations.

One example would be: A parent arrives to pick up their child and they are obviously drunk.  Do you let the child leave with them? Do you refuse to release the child? Well, first – if the parent’s rights to the child are not altered via a court order (i.e. no contact, limited contact, etc.) then you do not have the authority to hold the child.  What you try really, really hard to do is talk the parent out of removing the child from your care.  Offer to call a taxi or a friend, talk them into not putting the child in the car and driving away.  Ideally, you have another employee call 911 if the parent is emphatic about leaving with the child.  You delay them as long as you possibly can – in order to get the authorities to your program.  They can make sure that the inebriated parent doesn’t get behind the wheel of their vehicle.

Having a code word to use in these types of situations may enable you to let another employee know to contact 911 while you are trying to detain the parent.  Then you proceed to take an unreasonable amount of time getting the child’s things, looking for some type of paperwork that the parent “must” have, help change the child’s clothes – anything to give the authorities time to get there.  As a last resort, you tell the parent that if they get into their car with the child you will be reporting them to the police immediately and they will be facing DUI and child endangerment charges.  You can offer to help them call someone else to come get them.  These are very difficult situations and potentially dangerous to yourself, your staff, other children in your care, their child, etc.  What you don’t want to do is escalate the situation into violence.  This might take every child care skill you have – redirection, reasoning, explaining, helping, etc.   

Similar policies and procedures need to be in place and followed if you know a parent has just driven their child to your program and they are impaired.  They are most likely going back out to their car to drive down the road.  Just because the child is safe in your care – the parent needs to be reported to 911 in order for the police to apprehend them.  You may lose a parent in your program, but you will have helped to get a drunk driver off the road.
You need to have a policy in place, and more importantly you need to train your staff, on how to appropriately deal with this type of child endangerment.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Week of the Young Child

This year's Week of the Young Child (WOYC) is April 22 - 28.  The theme for this year is "Early Years are Learning Years". The purpose of the WOYC is to "focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs".  

One fun activity I conducted years ago was a paper bag project.  We coordinated with a local grocery story and obtained a large stack of paper grocery bags from them a few weeks before the WOYC , wrote our program name on the lower face of each bag, then had children create artwork on the upper face of each bag.  We took the bags back to the grocery store and they used them to bag groceries during the WOYC.  It was a great awareness activity for our program and the children loved seeing their artwork in the grocery store.  

Here are some other suggestions on how to celebrate the Week of the Young Child:
  • Provide buttons to the parents of the children in your care and ask them to wear them to work.  The buttons could say "Child care keeps America working" or "This worker made possible by a high-quality child care program". 
  • Host a parent appreciation day with coffee and donuts for the parents as they drop off their children in the morning.
  • Have children make paper dolls.  Display the paper dolls in your own program or ask a business (or 2) in the area to "adopt" your dolls and display them during the week.
  • Invite a legislator, local community leader, or business leader to "work" in your program for a couple of hours to experience, first-hand, the complexities of providing high-quality child care.  (not in ratio, and under your direct visual supervision at all times, as they will be unfingerprinted visitors)
  • Conduct a book drive to collect children's books for the Reach Out and Read program.
  • Partner with bookstore or library to present a preschool story time.
  • Display children’s art in area restaurants, businesses, etc., and ask parents to display their child's artwork at their places of employment.
  • Host a Family Writing Workshop where parents and children create a book together.
  • Host a staff appreciation day and provide lunch or snacks for your staff.
  • Invite parents to come in and read a story to the children. 
  • Host an open house to allow people in the community to tour your program to see what the children are learning.
  • Conduct a stuffed animal day where children bring in their favorite stuffed animals.  Read the book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear", substituting the names of the children's animals for "Brown Bear".  (example--"Red dog, red dog, what do you see?")
Have fun and enjoy celebrating your children and your program!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Child Care and Child Welfare

As child care providers, we are sometimes put in difficult situations with families.  You may have parents going through a nasty divorce, parents accusing each other of child abuse/neglect,  parents who have court orders in relation to the care and supervision of their children or a child who you suspect is suffering at the hands of their parents.  No matter the situation, you may feel like you are in a tough spot.  

I am going to be covering these difficult issues in a series of articles on this blog.  The first issue I am going to talk about is suspected child abuse or neglect.   As a former CPS social worker, I have visited child care providers who were trying to do the right thing, but often were making mistakes – mistakes that could easily be life-threatening for the children in their care.
  • A child comes to your care with an unexplained injury – or the explanation given by the parent doesn’t seem to “add up”. 
It is not your job to conduct an investigation.  It is your job to be a reporter.  As a child care provider (in most states) you are considered a “mandated reporter”.  What that means is that if you suspect child abuse OR neglect, you are required by law to contact the child abuse reporting hotline in your area.  It is our general instinct to confront the parent about the injuries and conduct our own investigation into the matter.  However, you have not been trained to conduct an investigation.  Most likely you don’t really know the laws governing these types of cases or the local jurisdictional responsibilities.  As the provider you can give valuable information to the CPS investigator when they call you to inquire about the report.  You are able to identify any behavioral changes in the child or general physical conditions.  Often, you are the only other person who sees the child’s body unclothed (in the case of infants or toilet training young ones).  It is critical however, to provide factual information.  Don’t make up “facts” because you are asked a question that you think you should know the answer to.  If you don’t know for a fact – state that you do not know.  It makes investigating child abuse cases so much more difficult if the investigator has to disprove supposition.    
  • A child tells you that they are being hurt at home. 
Your job is to contact the child abuse hotline and report exactly what the child has told you.  The hotline worker will try to ascertain details, but if you don’t know details – don’t make them up!  Only report the facts, your direct observations, what the child told you EXACTLY.  Sometimes we try to fill in between the lines, make the story seem more accurate, determine what we think might have happened…. All of these things make a thorough investigation more difficult.
  •  A teacher comes to you (as a Director, Lead Teacher, Assistant Director) since you are their supervisor and tells you that they suspect child abuse/neglect.  They want you to make a call to the CPS hotline on their behalf.
What I would do in this situation is make the phone call together.  The teacher is the one who has the suspicions based on something they have observed.  It is not appropriate for you to take their report and then call the hotline.  The hotline intake worker will ask questions that you will not be able to answer and they will need to speak to the teacher anyway.  Being moral support to your employee is fine, but influencing the call is not – other than to make sure that the call is made.
  • A teacher calls in a hotline report to CPS without your prior knowledge or “approval” as their supervisor or Director. 
It is not a good idea to have a program policy that all child abuse/neglect issues must be brought to the Director (insert whatever title you want here) first.  Being a mandated reporter does not mean that the person must report to their supervisor FIRST.  You can have a policy that states that the administration of the program would appreciate being informed when a child abuse hotline report is made.  But it is not OK for you to require them to inform your administrative people first.  Really, they cannot even be required to inform the program administration at all.  It is just generally accepted practice to make sure administrators know about these situations so they know what is going on when the investigator shows up at your door.

Remember, the most critical issue here is to train your employees appropriately and make sure they know the definitions of abuse and neglect and how to appropriately report these situations to the authorities.