Guest blogger Beth: Recently I picked my son up from day care and immediately noticed two huge scratches, literally gashes, on his face. He's only one. so he obviously cannot tell me what happened. When I asked the teacher, she told me that she had noticed it when she came in to the classroom (for the afternoon shift). She said she has asked the early teacher but no one knew how or when it happened. I was confused. Didn't someone notice it at some point? And why is everyone pointing the finger at someone else?? More importantly, why didn't someone write it down when they first noticed it? I mean, they write down when he poops, pees, and indicate how many Cheerios he eats and when. Shouldn't they at least have written an incident report???
I do trust the caretakers there -- and realize that accidents can happen anywhere, even in our own home on my watch. However, as a mom, I need to know that my son is in a 100% safe environment and that there isn't negligence going on. Concerned and confused, I contacted Pattie Fitzgerald, safety expert from Safely Ever After, a company that creates innovative safety programs for parents and their kids. Here's what Pattie had to say:
Are there any warning signs that your caregiver(s) may not be watching your child closely enough?
Signs would be things like a child coming home with bruises repeatedly (once in a while is one thing, kids fall or get into scrapes with other kids.) Other signs -- does the child seem dirty or hungry when the parent picks him up? What is the environment like -- does it seems chaotic, with things around that could be hazardous to a small child, such as small toys, choking hazards? Does the provider seem "harried" or in a constant state of movement/chaos? When the parents arrives at pickup, is the caregiver there to greet the parent or is he/she hard to find? Is there a big turnover in employees who care for the children? Is the main caregiver often gone or absent? What is the adult to child ratio -- is it being followed by the legal requirements?
What are the top signs that there is some sort of abuse or negligence?
Again, often seeing marks on a child, bruises, scratches, red marks in the private areas. A child who repeatedly cries that they don't want to go to the daycare, saying things like "Miss Suzy is mean," "Miss Suzy hurts me," "Miss Suzy plays too hard," (this is different than the occasional complaint that they don't want to go to daycare because they miss mommy). A daycare provider who cannot explain bruises or who minimizes the seriousness of the matter when the parent inquires (often trying to make the parent feel silly or guilty for asking) is another warning sign. Does the caregiver allow the parent to come in anytime, unannounced -- or do they tell the parents they must always call first? A parent should be able to come into the environment at any time with no resistance from the caregiver.
Behaviorial signs that a child might be abused or neglected include:
- A happy-go-lucky child suddenly seems withdrawn or sullen especially around the daycare provider or sitter.
- A child with frequent sleep disturbances, recurrent nightmares or bad dreams.
- A child with sexual knowledge or behavior inappropriate for their age (knowledge beyond their years).
- A child who comes home with different names for their private parts which you do not use
- Regressing to infantile behavior or frequent bedwetting or thumb-sucking if they have long grown out of this behavior
- Changes in appetite
- Mood swings, anger, depression, acting out toward other adults or children physical signs that a child might be abused:
- Frequent marks, bruises or welts on a child that the daycare provider cannot explain or minimizes the fact that the child is hurt
- Sprains, broken bones or fractures while in the provider's care -- check to see if it happens often to many children in their care
- Difficulty sitting or walking
- Irritation or pain in the genital area
- Frequent UTI or bladder infections
What can parents do to make sure their child is in a safe environment?
- In a daycare situation, ask a lot of questions beforehand. Are they licensed? Ask to see it. Anyone can say they are licensed. Insist on proof.
- Find out if there have ever been any complaints lodged. Get several references and CHECK THEM!!
- Ask what their discipline philosophy is. Does the provider have children of their own?
- Talk to other parents at the daycare. What are they're feelings about the environment? Do their children seem happy, safe and well cared for?
- Is the provider trained in CPR?
- Can a parent enter the facility at anytime without calling first?
- Be sure all laws are being followed in terms of how many children are allowed at the site as well as the adult to child ratio and the spatial room for the amount of kids being cared for.
- Inspect the entire facility, including toys, games and furnishings -- especially high chairs, climbing apparatus, swing sets, slides and cots for napping. Are there childproof safety locks where necessary (kitchen, bathroom, cupboards)? Communicate with all personnel involved with your child, not just the owner. Ask your child periodically about their day -- where did they play, with whom, what were the activities, what did they eat, and whether they had a good day or not.
How can you make sure your child is safe at a playdate or at someone else's house?
- Be sure to talk to the parents ahead of time. Does it feel like you are on the same page? Trust your instincts!!
- Who will be there supervising? A nanny, the parent, an older sibling? Will the children be staying at the home or going out at some point? What is the home environment like? I recently had a client who mentioned that her child's new friend had parents who were always fighting, cursing at the kids, or else generally ignoring the children whenever the playdate was at their home.
- Spend time with the parent(s) before letting your child have an unsupervised playdate at someone's home. Ask if there are any guns in the house and if so, where are they -- out of reach of the kids, unloaded? It may sound silly, but this can be a dangerous accident waiting to happen. Are there a lot of other adults who frequent the home -- uncles, neighbors, older siblings' friends? If children are very young, be sure those childproofing locks are in place, especially on doors, stairways, windows (especially on upper floors) -- do not let other parents' carelessness or neglect put your child at risk. If the parents tell you they don't think these are necessary, do not leave your child there unattended. Get a sense of who the other parents are ... if you think they are too lax in the way they care for their kids, consider having those playdates at your home instead.
- Most importantly, talk to your own child ahead of time about inappropriate behavior in others, and that they have the right to say NO to anyone's touches of any kind if it makes them feel "yucky" or weird, and that they should let you know if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or "yucky."
- If your child needs help in the bathroom, who will assist? Usually, it's fine to let the other child's mom help in this situation -- but no one else. Let your child know they can call you at any time if they want to be picked up, and you will not be angry or upset with them.
- Ask them about the playdate afterwards -- did they enjoy it, what was it like? Encourage your child to describe it with details, rather than just asking them "yes" or "no" questions.