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Investigating summer child-care facilities


Summertime is fun time for our children, but it's also accident time. Each summer thousands of children are killed or injured because their summer camps, day-care centers, church-run summer nursery schools and family day-care situations weren't safe for them.

Before enrolling your child in any summer program, every parent should take these basic precautions:

Call your state's Human Services Department or Department of Family Services, listed under State Government in your telephone book, and ask what the regulations are for a day-care facility in your state.

Check the license and health department permits of any camp or nursery you're considering. Ask to see the actual documentation and make sure that it's both valid and current.

Ask for a written copy of the program's rules and policies. All day-care facilities should be able to provide one that covers fees, hours, holiday schedules, fines for late pick-up, discipline techniques, and procedures when a child is ill or injured.

Ask about the program's orientation. Does it stress athletic competition, arts and crafts, free play, musical expression, the development of children's social skills, academic acceleration? Or does it offer a well-balanced program that incorporates all of these areas?

Check the credentials of the people who'll be in charge of your child, as well. All staff members should have appropriate education and training or, in the case of temporary summer employees, should receive formal orientation and training before any care-taking takes place.

Summer programs often employ teen-agers and college students, but in some cases these helpers assume virtually all the responsibility for the children under their care. Be sure to ask these questions of any director who hires summer help:

What training and experience do you require of these temporary staff members? Do you require references, and do you check them? How much supervision does your temporary staff receive? What are their duties -- specifically? Are they ever left unsupervised with the children? Under what circumstances, and for how long?

If your child will be in or near the water -- even a small swimming pool -- make sure that he or she will be supervised by Red Cross-certified lifeguards at all times, and that no more than four to six children (depending upon their swimming skills) will be in the water for each supervising adult.

Feel free to ask about such matters as discipline (never physical!) and safeguards against child abuse. How closely does the camp's director check the backgrounds of her employees? Is there a high turnover rate among staff members? Are peripheral workers (janitors, gardeners, plumbers, carpenters, etc.) also checked carefully? Are they ever left unsupervised with the children?

All child-care directors should be aware of, and take seriously, the legitimate concerns that all parents have nowadays about the potential for physical and sexual abuse in day-care situations, and should be willing to speak frankly about them.

They should be willing to discuss their disciplinary methods and staff screening procedures in an open, non-defensive manner, as well.

It's important to check a facility's toileting and hand-washing rules, too, and to ask where and how food is prepared and served, and where and how it is refrigerated. Germs that can cause severe stomach and intestinal ailments proliferate in the warmth of these summer months.

Finally, check in with yourself before choosing a summer program for your child. How did you feel when you were with these people? Did you feel welcome? Would you feel safe and comfortable in this setting if you were a child?

Because in the final analysis, the best way to keep our children safe this summer is to investigate thoroughly any child-care arrangements we may be considering, then trust our own good instincts -- and our children's -- when it comes to selecting the right one.

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