Tuesday, July 30, 2013

5 Numbers to Know

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has a new, interactive multi-media presentation entitled “Five Numbers to Remember About Early Child Development”.  The numbers are:

  • 700 Per Second—In a young child’s brain, new neural connections are formed at the rate of 700 per second.  Reciprocal interactions with adults are one of the primary methods through which these neurons develop.
  • 18 Months—By the age of 18 months, disparities in vocabulary, based upon the education level of the child’s parents, begin to appear.  By the age of 3 years, children of college-educated parents may have a vocabulary 2-3 times that of children whose parents have not completed high school.
  • 90-100%—Children who are faced with 6-7 risk factors (poverty, parent/caregiver mental illness, maltreatment, etc.) in the first 3 years of life have a 90-100% chance of developmental delays. 
  • 3:1 Odds—Similarly, children who are faced with 7-8 risk factors are 3 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease as adults.
  • 4-9 Dollars—Several longitudinal studies on the impact of high-quality early childhood education programs have demonstrated that every dollar invested yields $4-9 in future returns.

So, what does this research tell us?  Early childhood education is extraordinarily important and well worth the investment.  A relatively small investment early in a child’s life can prevent lifelong problems. Children in difficult home environments may need more extensive interventions.  Quality early childhood education benefits not just the child and parents, but all of society.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Child Care Staffing

My apologies.  I realized after last week’s article about children left in vehicles, that two weeks ago  I promised an article on managing ratios in your child care program.  Sorry, I got side-tracked by the ACT info and forgot about ratios for a bit.  

So…..ratios.  Child care programs live and die by our adherence to ratios.  Understaff, and children are left in an unsafe environment which can lead to injuries, poor quality of care, and even closure of the program.  Overstaff, and we go broke and have to close the program, no matter how high our quality may be.

Maintaining proper ratios sounds easy to someone who has never tried to write and manage a child care staffing schedule.  While many children arrive and depart on a pretty consistent schedule, this does not always happen.  Children’s schedules may vary by the day of the week.  Staff schedules may need to vary by the day of the week as well; perhaps one of your staff members is taking a class and needs Tuesday mornings off.  Dealing with the various contingencies can be quite a challenge.  

In order to write an effective schedule that maximizes the staffing budget, a program manager must know how many children are in attendance 

  • at any given time 
  • on any given day 
  • in any given room 
  • and how many staff members are working with them.  

We manage this through an “Hourly Ratio Tracking Sheet” (although it actually tracks every half hour).  Every 30 minutes, a staff member in each classroom notes how many children are in attendance and how many staff are on duty in the room.  For ease of reference, the sheet notes the ratio for the classroom.  It also highlights those times that we may need to be overstaffed; lunch, snack time, diaper change time, etc.  Our program manager then looks over these forms and highlights areas in which we are overstaffed.  (Hopefully there is never an area in which we are understaffed.)  If patterns of overstaffing are found (every Wednesday from 7:00 to 8:00, for example), the staff schedule is modified to use our staff and money more effectively. 

If you don’t already have a ratio tracking sheet, check ours out here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

ACT to Keep Children Safe in Vehicles

Every year, we hear of young children who are injured or killed from being left unattended in vehicles.  Approximately half of these incidents happen when the child is accidentally forgotten in the vehicle.  The other primary causes are children who gain access to the vehicle without the parent/caregiver’s knowledge, and children who are intentionally left in vehicles.

The facts are simple:

  • Vehicles heat up very quickly, even with a window rolled partially down.  Within 10 minutes, the vehicle temperature can increase by 20 degrees in 10 minutes and 34 degrees in 30 minutes.  So, even on a cool day, the interior temperatures of vehicles can quickly become dangerous.
  • Children’s bodies are more susceptible to heat than adults’ bodies.  Their bodies heat up 3-5 times faster than an adult’s bodies and they are not as able to lower their body temperatures through sweating.  A child’s body temperature can rise to 106 degrees in about 10-15 minutes (and heatstroke can occur at a body temperature of 104 degrees).
Because these deaths and injuries are preventable, it is up to parents and caregivers to have systems in place to protect children.  “Safe Kids Worldwide” has launched a campaign and developed the acronym of "ACT" to help keep children safe in vehicles:

A—AVOID heat-related injuries and death by never leaving your child alone in a car.  Not with the windows partially down and not “just for a minute”.  Keep your car doors and trunk locked and your keys out of the reach of children.  Teach children to not play in cars.

C—CREATE REMINDERS.  Many of these tragedies occur when parents or caregivers are distracted or are varying from their regular routines.  A parent can put a purse or briefcase, something that you will need when you arrive at your destination, next to the child as a reminder that the child is in the vehicle.  Child care providers must have a list of all children in the vehicle that will be checked each time children enter or leave the vehicle to ensure that they are all accounted for at all times.

T—TAKE ACTION.  If you see an unattended child in a car, call 911 immediately.  If the child is in imminent danger, take immediate action to remove the child from the car.

If your Transportation Policy does not already include measures to ensure that children are not left unattended in vehicles, check ours out here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Child Care Labor Costs

One thing that we’ve learned over the years in both working individually with child care providers and in speaking with providers at conferences is that the financial piece of the business is not always one of the highest priorities.  While caring for children and managing staff are absolutely critical, even the best program cannot continue operating unless it’s financially viable.  Since labor costs are often 80% or so of a child care budget, this is one area that must be managed very carefully.  

One tool that we use to manage our labor costs is our “Labor Cost Worksheet”.  This tool helps us to manage a multitude of staff financial considerations such as:

  • An overview of each staff member’s pay rate and how they compare to other staff members’ pay rates
  • How much our staff benefits cost us
  • How many hours of straight labor costs did we have vs training and overtime costs
  • Why we incurred extra costs in training and overtime
  • And, in organizing the list by classrooms, we can see all of these stats for each class

If you don’t already have a good method in place for tracking your labor costs, check ours out here.  Next week we’ll talk about watching your ratios to maximize your staffing budget.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Child Care Provider or Babysitter?

In an online community I belong to, there has recently been a vigorous discussion about child care program staff babysitting children from the program after hours.  The issues discussed ranged from:

  • not imposing limits on staff after-hour jobs due to the fact that many child care programs don’t pay very well
  • having staff notify management if they are babysitting program children after hours
  • prohibiting teachers from babysitting children from their own class
  • what if a staff member doesn’t want to babysit for a particular family
  • might a parent start to believe that they should get special treatment from a staff member because they pay that staff member after hours
  • do we send a mixed message by babysitting; we assert that we are child care professionals, not babysitters, but then we turn around and babysit in our off-duty time
  • bad publicity for the program if a child is injured during the babysitting arrangement
  • and, of course, program liability

While these are all valid issues, our program addresses the first issue by attempting to pay our staff as well as possible and to provide benefits like vacation time and sick leave, health insurance reimbursement, and paid planning time for lead teachers.  All of the other issues are handled by our “no babysitting” policy.  Our staff members are not allowed to babysit children from the program; no exceptions.  If a staff member violates that policy, he or she is immediately terminated and the parent loses their child care.

This may seem harsh, but first of all, this policy is not a surprise to anyone.  Every staff member is informed of this policy during his or her orientation and signs that they understand and agree to abide by the policy.  Every parent is informed of this policy as part of the enrollment process and, similarly, signs that they will abide by the policy.  

So, why are we so rough on this one?  The simple answer is liability.  We were informed by our lawyer that if, heaven forbid, a child is injured in any way while one of our staff members is babysitting them after hours, our program could be held liable.  Since the parent met the babysitter through our program, they may well believe that we are certifying that individual as safe to work with children with no constraints.  The parent perceives your hiring the individual as a “perceived recommendation”.  While this may be (and hopefully is) generally true, I cannot be responsible for what my staff members do outside of my program.

Some program managers believe that they can have the parent sign a waiver indicating that they will hold the program harmless if anything happens while a staff member is babysitting their child.  Unfortunately, hold harmless agreements/liability waivers will often not hold up in court.  And, even if it does, by that time you have already incurred legal expenses and your program name has probably already been in the news in a not-so-good way. 

If you don’t already have a Babysitting Policy, check ours out here.