Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Custody Orders in Child Care

Warring parents are one of the most difficult challenges faced by child care providers.  Each parent wants what they feel is best for their child, but they don’t always agree.  This can make for a very challenging situation for the provider.  But, the worst part can come in at child pick-up time or when a parent is requesting information about the child.  Who, exactly, is authorized to pick up the child or receive information?  

The first thing is to make sure that you have the most current custody order on file and an understanding with each parent that they will provide you with any updates to the custody order.  We have each parent initial and date the custody order to demonstrate that they are in agreement that this is the most recent order.  If there is no custody order in effect, we have the parents write out the custody and share of information arrangements to which they have both agreed and have both initial and date it.

Then make sure that the staff member who is handling the custody order knows what it means and what to do with it.  We have a Custody Order Policy to help our staff know what to do and a Custody Order Summary Form to synthesize the details of the custody order and make the arrangements clear for all staff members.

Custody Orders may include:

  • Shared or Joint Custody:  Each parent has some court ordered visitation with the child.  In this situation, each parent retains equal rights to the access of information and decision-making regarding the child.
  • Sole or Exclusive Custody: The non-custodial parent might or might not have some visitation arrangement.  However, regardless of visitation, one parent is given the sole or exclusive right to access information and make decisions regarding the child. 
  • No Contact Order: One or both parents may be ordered by the court to have no contact with the child. While it may seem unfair, keep in mind that 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.  

And, finally, even though it seems obvious, make sure that the custody order is for the correct child.  We had a parent provide us a custody order to gain access to a child’s file, but the order was for the other two children of hers that we had in care.  It was an oversight on her part (I think), but fortunately, our staff caught the error and realized that they could not release the information.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Routine Release of Child from Care

Although we call it “routine”, we have to always remain aware that we cannot take the release of children from our care as routine.  Release a child improperly and we could potentially have a life-threatening nightmare of a situation.  Of course, most of the time the release is without incident because we have already done the work of confirming who is picking up the child.  We have developed a relationship with the parent (or individual who typically picks the child up), greet them by name when they arrive, and give them a brief overview of the child’s day before seeing them off and wishing them a good evening.  So, even though this has become routine, it is only through the work we did in advance.

The challenge comes into this situation when we have a different staff member in the classroom or when a different person comes to pick up the child.  In either case, the situation is the same; our staff member must be assured that the child is being released appropriately.  If we have a different staff member in the room, either as a substitute or as a new staff member, ideally the other teacher in the room knows the parent and can provide an introduction to the two.  Within a few days, the new staff member should be able to easily (yet absolutely) recognize that parent.  

However, if none of the staff members know the person picking up the child and know that the person is authorized by the parent to pick the child up, we have to check our own emergency cards and the individual’s identification.  The emergency card will tell the staff member if that person is authorized to pick up the child.  The individual’s identification (photo identification) will tell us if the person is who they claim to be.

I have had a few situations in which someone was offended at having to show identification, or was upset that they had to leave the program and return to their car to pick up their identification.  But, in almost every case, when I explained to them why we were so cautious, they appreciated the concern we showed for the child.  In the rare case where the individual remained upset, I spoke with the parent the next time they dropped off or picked up the child and asked them to remind their emergency contacts what we require to release a child and why we are so cautious.  In every case, the parent appreciated our policies and agreed to speak with their friend or family member.

One caution is that the release of the child to someone we “know” must be based upon absolute identification.  We can’t have a staff member say “I thought I recognized” the person.  Our bottom line must always be, when there is ANY doubt, check the emergency card and the photo identification.  

If you don’t already have a clear policy defining the terms upon which a child can be released from your facility, check ours out here.  Next week we will talk about how custody orders impact our release of children.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Employee Emergency Care

We have recently added a new employee to our team.  Of course, background checks and all of those basics were completed before this person’s first day of work.  However, I have realized that my priority on the order in which we complete other employment paperwork has changed over the years.  

We still complete all of the required paperwork (I-9, W-2, payroll information, Orientation information, etc.) on the first day of employment, but the absolute first form that I require that day is our Staff Emergency Information Form.  I realized that I am now a bit paranoid and want this form completed as soon as a new employee walks into our facility.

My paranoia is not without cause though.  Several years ago, we had a new employee, about 15 minutes into her first shift with us, have a major medical issue.  We discovered at that time that, although we had her emergency information scattered among a few documents, we did not have one easily-accessible form that provided the EMT’s with all of the basic information that they needed to provide her with the best possible care.  What, if any allergies or medical conditions did she have?  Did she take any medications regularly?  To which hospital should they transport her?  In an emergency, there is not time to shuffle through paperwork trying to find these answers.

As our employee was in transit to the hospital, our next task was to get in touch with her emergency contacts.  Again, although that information was in her personnel file, it was buried a bit and not immediately accessible.  In that type of situation, I don’t want to flip through papers…I want to have the information at my fingertips.  

That afternoon, we sat down and developed our Staff Emergency Information Form that sits prominently at the front of each Personnel File.  And, over the years, we have revised it here and there to make sure that it is more complete, but just as simple.  If, Heaven forbid, we have another emergency with one of our staff members, we are properly prepared.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month We’ve heard a lot in the past several years about the “epidemic” of childhood obesity.  Recent data shows that 1 in 8 preschoolers in the U.S. are obese.  Children who are obese are 5 times more likely than children of normal weigh to be obese or overweight as adults.  Additionally, obese children are at higher risk for illnesses like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and even heart disease.

As child care providers, we can have a major impact in children’s health; many are with us for large parts of the day, 5 days each week.  We often feed children 2 meals and 2 snacks daily, meaning that we may be responsible for nearly 50% of their weekly meals and snacks.  Making sure that those meals and snacks are healthy will not only provide good nutrition, but also help teach children how to follow a healthy diet.   Part of that is modeling a healthy diet ourselves, which begins with staff training on nutrition.  Menu development is critical in planning healthy meals and snacks.  Appropriate menus will include a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and limited fat and sugar.  The USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program provides guidelines for appropriate child nutrition, including portion sizes.  

We also have the children in our care long enough each day to ensure that they have the opportunity for regular physical fitness.  Again, if we provide 60 minutes of physical activity for children each day, we can make sure that they get 70% of their weekly recommended exercise.  Ideally, part of this activity time should be structured and some should be unstructured.  Additionally, children should have limited screen time and not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, with the exception of nap time.  

If you don’t already have a system in place for tracking meals and snacks and planning portion sizes, check out our Meal and Snack Planning and Consumption Worksheet.