Child Care Licensing
Rewarding, but risky, business
Working with children is a highly rewarding career. The days can be long, but the years fly by. Before you know it, Miguel, the infant that started as a 2-month old is now 18 years old and pops back in to visit his old school before graduating high school. Great personal reward comes to those that were entrusted with the life of this child; helping him reach milestones, developing socially, emotionally, and academically.
Before all those wonderful stages of development could happen, important safety measures were put in place to keep him safe. Those key elements can be found in Chapter 42 of the Texas Human Resource Code. The main charge of child care licensing in the state of Texas is “to protect the health, safety and well-being of the children of the state….” (Human Resource Code Chapter 42.001). How do child care providers protect the health, safety, and well-being of children in their care? This is where the minimum standards come in to assist Texas caregivers.
A child care provider has to become a risk analyst of sorts because young children are some of some of the most at-risk human beings in the world. While going through the different developmental stages, they need an adult’s guidance and risk assessment to help ensure their safety.
The No. 1 way that we can reduce risk to children is to ensure that the people caring for them have a cleared background check. We know that identifying adults with a criminal history (who are prohibited from working with children) is the front line of defense for the children in care. If dangerous people are properly identified and never make it through the door, then we have eliminated a high risk.
Safe physical facilities and play equipment are also high on the list of ways to reduce risk. Staff should be looking low each day for hazards in the classroom and on the playground. Why low? That is where the children are.
§746.3701 What safety precautions must I take to protect children in my child care center?
An important first safety step: Look at the indoor and outdoor environments and play equipment in light of the children’s developmental abilities. Just a few examples:
Because curious, crawling 9-month-olds can reach wall plugs near the floor, the plugs need to be covered.
Toddlers tend to wobble and fall, which means that sharp corners on furniture need to be padded.
Children 3 years and younger tend to put objects in their mouths. Small items could cause choking—the leading cause of death among children younger than 4 years old (www.nationwidechildrens.org/news-room-articles/american-academy-of-pediatrics-releases-new-policy-statement-on-choking?contentid=55661).
Because 4-year-olds love to climb higher and higher, fall zones on the playground need to be well maintained.
A second safety tip: Be aware of common hazards. According to the minimum standards, all areas accessible to a child must be free from hazards, including the following:
Electrical outlets accessible to a child younger than 5 years old must have childproof covers or safety outlets.
Large-appliance, 220-volt electrical connections within a child’s reach must be covered with a screen or guard.
Air conditioners, electric fans, and heaters must be mounted out of all children’s reach or have safeguards that keep any child from being injured.
The glass in sliding doors must be clearly marked with decals or other materials placed at children’s eye level.
Play materials and equipment must be safe and free from sharp or rough edges and toxic paints.
Poisonous or potentially harmful plants must be inaccessible to all children.
All storage chests, boxes, trunks, and similar items with hinged lids must be equipped with a lid support designed to hold the lid open in any position, be equipped with ventilation holes, and must not have a latch that might close and trap a child inside.
All bodies of water such as pools, hot tubs, ponds, creeks, birdbaths, fountains, buckets, and rain barrels must be inaccessible to all children.
Watchful caregivers can eliminate common hazards identified at licensing inspections and investigations. Be on the alert for these hazards and quickly address them:
Keep cleaning supplies out of children’s reach.
Maintain playground loose fill to the proper depth. (See §746.4907 below for specific requirements.)
Remove playground hazards, such as trash blown in, items left by others when space is shared, snakes, and fire-ant beds after rain.
Keep climbing equipment in good repair, with no nails, bolts, or screws sticking out.
Remove trip hazards, such as loose rugs, in areas that children occupy.
Anchor to the wall shelves and furniture that a child can climb on and pull over.
Keep mini-blinds cords, electrical wires, and other cords out of children’s reach. They present a hanging hazard.
Anchor the TV set on a cart or bookshelf.
Keep purses and diaper bags out of children’s reach. They could contain safety hazards.
Remove items that pose a choking risk, or make them inaccessible.
Several times daily, caregivers should look for potential risks in the environment, starting at the floor (where the children spend most of their time) and moving up from there. Risks can be the result of hurry and thoughtlessness. For example, a spray bottle with sanitizing solution is left on a counter that is accessible to toddlers who are eager to help clean a table for snack. Or a vase of fake flowers whose plastic bulbs are easily removed sits next to a crib, presenting a choking hazard. Both items can be appropriate for adults but not in a room with children in care.
Whether you work in a center with 12 children or a building with 900, you must come up with a method for daily grounds and safety checks. Some creative ways to complete this task include the following:
Appoint two to three health and safety coordinators.
Put together a safety checklist that identifies areas of risk in your program. The safety checklist created by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is a good starting place. Find it at http://extensiononline.tamu.edu/blog/avoiding-hazards-keeping-children-safe.php.
Have safety coordinators complete a walkthrough of the building during their shifts to thoroughly review and identify areas of risk and immediately correct them.
Provide classroom teachers with a safety checklist specific to their rooms. Insist that safety violations be addressed immediately—by submitting a work order for repair, removing a broken chair, or reporting the issue to the safety coordinator, for example.
During a staff meeting, compile an outdoor safety checklist list for your program. Some items to include:
• Walk the yard to identify fire-ant beds before children go outside.
• Walk the yard to look for snakes under cool play areas.
• Walk the yard to remove trash and debris that may have blown into the area or thrown into it by a passerby.
• Ensure that all gates latch correctly.
• Ensure that loose fill is not compacted and meets the markers on the play equipment.
• Remove broken toys that cannot be repaired.
Use the minimum standards to help create a checklist that has some of the most often identified safety hazards. Remember that because all programs are different, you will need to analyze risks specific to your program.
§746.4751. What special maintenance procedures must I follow for my active play space and equipment?
Outdoor play is an important component of quality early care and education. The outdoor play space and equipment require a thorough daily inspection by knowledgeable caregivers equipped with a checklist. Examples of checklists that include outdoor items can be found at http://ccpdi.usu.edu/htm/c-a-c/indicators/licensed-center-child-care/health-safety-lccc/h-s-lccc-n7 and http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00333.
Texas minimum standards require the child care director or designee to follow these safety procedures related to outdoor play space and equipment:
Inspect the active play space and equipment daily before children begin play to ensure no hazards are present.
Conduct at least monthly inspections of the active play space and equipment, using a general maintenance checklist or safety checklist that includes checking the equipment and surfacing material for normal wear and tear, broken or missing parts, debris or foreign objects, drainage problems, or other hazards.
Ensure that hazards or defects identified during inspections are removed or repaired promptly, and arrange for protection of the children or prohibit use of hazardous equipment until the hazards can be removed or repairs can be made.
Keep maintenance inspections and repair records at the child care center for review during the center’s hours of operation for at least the previous three months.
§746.4907 How should outdoor loose-fill surfacing materials be installed?
Falls are the most common playground injury. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 76 percent of these injuries are due to falls from playground equipment. The number and severity of falls are related to the surface under the playground equipment (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00313). You can avoid or reduce fall injuries on playgrounds by properly installing and maintaining fall zones.
According to Licensing:
You must install and maintain loose-fill surfacing materials to a minimum depth depending on the height of the play surface. Specifically: a) at least 6 inches when the highest designated play surface is 5 feet or less in height; and b) at least 9 inches when the highest designated play surface is taller than 5 feet.
You must not install loose-fill surfacing materials over concrete or asphalt.
You must mark all equipment support posts to indicate the depth at which the loose-fill surfacing material must be maintained under and around the equipment.
You must ensure the loose-fill materials are maintained at the proper depth at all times.
You must not use loose-fill surfacing materials indoors.
Remember that baby that just started in your program? Wait until you see him at 18 on his first day in college. Not only did you provide a loving, educational environment, but also you gave him a safe environment every day that he was in your care.