e’ve had a pretty warm fall in DC, but as the temperature drops, prepare for the start of the cold and flu season. Children get exposed to germs on a daily basis, especially those enrolled in daycare. In fact, kids in their first year of daycare are more likely to catch colds than those who stay at home. But don’t despair, studies show that the risk of infection declines over time and after one year in daycare, a child is at no greater risk of illness than a child who stays at home. Good child care providers will also take steps to reduce germs and decrease the risk of the flu spreading. Here is a list of questions to ask your child care provider to know if they have the proper health and safety procedures in place:
- What is your sick policy?
According to American Academy of Pediatrics, a child should stay out of daycare if there’s fever above 101°F, diarrhea, or vomiting two or more times in a 24 hour period. Many daycare centers use that recommendation as their standard sick policy, often requiring the child to be picked up within an hour after exhibiting those symptoms. Although some facilities are able to provide care for sick kids in a separate area known as a “get-well room,” those child care providers are extremely rare. Whether children need to be symptom free for a full 24 hours before returning to daycare, however, really depends on your child care provider. Home-based daycares may be more flexible, while child care centers with lots of kids typically have strict policies. Be sure you understand and agree with your daycare’s sick policy.
Tip: If you’re not able to remain home with your kids, have a backup plan for someone who could. You might need that help for a while because the flu can last from a few days to more than a week.
- How often are toys and surfaces cleaned and with what cleaner?
It’s very important that toys, especially those that infants and toddlers put in their mouths are sanitized before they’re given to other children. Use of dishwasher or hot cycle of a washing machine will kill most germs. Your child care provider should also clean surfaces considered most likely to be contaminated, which are those that children have regular contact with such as crib rails and diaper-changing areas. These surfaces should be sanitized throughout the day using a mild bleach solution, which is nontoxic and kills most infectious agents.
- How often are employees and children asked to wash hands?
Germs are also spread by hands, especially when it comes to kids and babies who might drool, so frequent and thorough hand-washing is important. Ask if children and staff wash their hands throughout the day. They should wash their hands upon arrival to the center, after using the restroom, before and after handling food, feeding a child, or eating. The best child care providers adopt the policies that doctors use: washing their hands in between touching every child.
Tip: Staff is less likely to wash their hands if they have to leave the room, so check if your child care center has a sink in every room. If not, look for hand sanitizer bottles. Also, using paper towels to dry hands is more hygienic than electric hand dryers or cloth towels.
- What steps do you take to actively fight germs?
It’s important to know what procedures the daycare has in place, especially if your child is going to a larger daycare center or preschool. Ask if staff is able to go home when they’re feeling sick. Does the center have a plan in place with a substitute caregiver who can fill in? What plans are in place to lower the chances that your child will get sick from exposure to another child who might not be feeling well? Some child care providers post notes at the door informing parents that there has been a confirmed case of X at the center. As a more informed parent, you are able to take precautions that you feel are necessary in protecting your child against getting sick.
Tip: Although it isn’t required, ask if child care providers, especially those that care for babies, are vaccinated against the flu. Flu vaccination is recommended for all children 6 months and older. For babies that cannot be vaccinated, it is recommended that people who live with or care for them get a flu shot.
- Are you licensed?
Make sure the child care provider you are using or considering is licensed. A licensed provider would have received training on health, safety, and sanitation and undergoes regular inspections to check that proper procedures are in place.
Tip: If you’re not sure how to find a licensed provider, check out CareLuLu.com which is completely free for parents to use, and helps you find a daycare or preschool that fits your needs and budget. All the providers listed that are licensed.
Getting sick is an inevitable part of growing up and helps strengthen the immune system, so keep in mind that whether your child is in a daycare or not, they will get sick at some point. So if daycare or preschool is what you want or need, don’t let the flu season stop you from enrolling your child! The good news is that kids in daycare will be less sick than their peers who were not in daycare once they enter school, presumably because they’ve built up immunity to most common cold viruses.