Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reducing Turnover in Child Care

Continuity of care is one of the most significant factors in quality of care, but the issue is even deeper than that.  A high staff turnover rate has a negative impact on the program through:

  • Lack of continuity for children, parents, and co-workers
  • Decrease in staff morale
  • Cost of hiring and training new staff
  • Parents withdrawing children from program

If we look at reasons often cited for staff leaving, we can come up with some ideas to retain our own staff.

  • Pay—Pay is probably the most frequently cited for leaving a program or the field in general.  Sadly, most program managers don’t have the financial ability to pay staff what they deserve and still provide reasonably affordable fees for parents.  But, we can make sure that we are staffing the program effectively (i.e. not overstaffing), controlling other costs as well as possible, and ensuring that our parent fees are fair to both the parents and the program.  In running our budgets effectively, we may find that we can afford to pay our staff a bit better.
  • Benefits—Even if we can’t provide full benefits for our staff, perhaps we can provide discounted care or a stipend to reimburse part of the cost of privately-acquired benefits.
  • Training—Overall, people feel better about their careers if they feel that they are successful at what they are doing.  We can help our staff feel (and be) successful by providing a well-planned training program which includes financial incentives for completing training.  Encouraging staff, and perhaps paying the fees, to attend professional conferences and/or continue their own educations.
  • Positive work environment—A positive work environment can go a long way in compensating for lower pay.  Make sure staff feel valued.  Provide planning time during the work day.  Support staff when there are behavior problems with children or difficult situations with parents.  Give staff opportunities to feel ownership in the program—provide expertise to another staff member, write newsletter articles, provide suggestions for program improvement, etc.

Reducing turnover is truly a win-win-win situation.  The program quality will be better, staff members will experience more job satisfaction, and parents and children will benefit.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

30 Million Words

A couple of weeks ago, NPR ran a story on the “word gap”.  The difference in words children from poor families hear by the time they are 3 years old and the words children from affluent families hear during their first 3 years.  This difference is 30 million words.

As stunning as that figure is on its own, the type of language is even more stunning.  In the lower-income families that were studied, the words were shorter, simpler, and more directive; “Do this, don’t do that.”  The more affluent families demonstrated longer, richer, and more conversational language.  

A recent study out of Stanford University shows that the word gap is significant even by the time the children are 18 months of age.  This provides solid proof that we must start working with children and their language skills very, very early.  And, we must encourage parents to do the same.  Perhaps we can provide training for our staff and invite parents to join us to learn the same techniques.  

We spoke a few weeks ago about the power of dialogic reading (basically, having a dialogue with the child) to help extend children’s vocabularies and comprehension during story time.  Along with that, we need to make sure that our conversations with children, whenever possible, are actual conversations; dialogic rather than one-sided.  As a child is drawing a picture, rather than saying, “What a pretty flower you drew”, we can of course, start with the open-ended “Tell me about your picture”.  Then, take it a step or two further.  “Where have you seen a flower like that?”  “Have you seen that kind of flower in any different colors?”  “How does that flower smell?”  etc, etc, etc.  For other ideas about extending conversations, you can check out last year’s blog on vocabulary building.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Protecting from Cold and Flu

Along with the hand sanitization and overall program cleanliness that we talked about last week, one huge key to protecting yourself and those around you from the cold and flu is to understand what you’re up against and avoid exposure.  While we can provide generalizations about telling whether someone has a cold or the flu, the Centers for Disease Control warns that it can be very difficult to tell the difference.  Frequently, although the symptoms may be the same, flu symptoms are more severe than cold symptoms (and both are pretty different from allergy symptoms).  That said, here are some general indicators:

Regardless of whether it’s a cold or the flu, we don’t want it and the best way to keep from getting it is avoiding exposure to the illness.  In a child care program, we do that by excluding individuals who are ill.  We have a comprehensive Illness Exclusion Policy as well as a form that we send home with each ill student indicating why they are being sent home and what needs to happen before they can return (for example—fever must be gone for 24 hours).  Looking at the above indicators for illness, some of the primary exclusion factors include fever, sluggishness and inability to participate in daily activities.  

Knowing the symptoms of illness and excluding children and staff who demonstrate those signs will go far in keeping us all healthy.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Beating H1N1 and Norovirus

Yup, it’s that time of year again.  Teachers and students are starting to drop like flies from the flu and, from what I’m hearing from colleagues, from norovirus as well.  While this is never a good time of year for trying to stay healthy, this year seems particularly bad with the H1N1 strain of the flu being a seriously unpleasant version and norovirus being even worse.  Not only do I want to keep the children in my care and my staff healthy, but quite frankly, I don’t want to bring either of these illnesses home to my family either.  

That said, how do we keep everyone healthy?  It boils down to two main strategies; cleanliness and making sure that individuals who are sick are not in your program.  This week we’ll focus on cleanliness and next week we’ll talk about exclusion of ill individuals. 

Earlier today, I was reading an interesting article about a potential norovirus outbreak in an elder care facility.  One of the administrators observed that, while staff are diligent about handwashing, the residents are not always able to maintain the same level of attentiveness.  I see that problem as being extremely pertinent to our programs.  We can have the best policies in place for hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting and staff who follow our policies to the letter, but if we don’t spend just as much time ensuring that the children wash their hands, it could all be for naught.  Not only do we need to make sure that they wash their hands at the appropriate times, we need to make sure that they wash them correctly.  (a friend used to threaten to record me saying “with soap” so that we could just play it back for my sons instead of me saying it over and over)

Good handwashing practices, properly covering coughs and sneezes, and diligent cleaning and sanitizing will go a long way in keeping everyone healthy this year.  And, if you have chosen to not use bleach as a disinfectant in your program, make sure that you check the FDA’s list of disinfectants that kill the norovirus. This is one tough, nasty bug.  

If you don’t already have a Hand Hygiene Policy and a Standard Precautions Policy, check ours out.