Education and Childcare in the Age of COVID: Keep Your Kids Safe

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The shift to fully online education and A/B in-person scheduling has left many of us scrambling to find childcare options that can both keep our children safe and support their education. Several new options appear every day, including in-home tutoring, learning pods, and variations of in-home daycares. While I applaud the community coming together to make childcare and learning options accessible and affordable, I fear that we as parents and caregivers will miss critical steps in keeping children safe from abuse and trauma. We can be too trusting, and can often let our guard down when we’re tense, stressed, and out of options.

Though we can’t protect our children from everything, we CAN ensure that we’ve done our best to scout out a safe environment and educate our children about bodily autonomy and consent.

The following steps are ways in which we can seek out potential dangers and/or red flags, and ensure our child’s safety when placing them in someone’s home.

Before you place a child in someone’s care, ask for personal and work references. 

Ask their personal references about their thoughts on this individual caring for children, including:

  • The caregiver’s ability to manage stress and emotions such as anger
  • The caregiver’s values and skills
  • The caregiver’s strengths and weaknesses
  • The caregiver’s lifestyle and home
  • The caregiver’s relationships (this isn’t too personal, see “Ask About Who is Present in the Home” below)

Try to also get a work reference, especially if the individual has worked with children before within a place of employment. Secure a verified work number to call or work email (with the company name in the email address) and verify that the individual did indeed work there. Ask similar questions to those above that would apply to the workplace.

As an additional step, you can search the name of the provider within public state records. Click here to search within Oklahoma. You can also search for offenders within the area of the home here.

Ask about the pets within the home and if they are secured during childcare.

Pets, like people, can become agitated by change and extra noise. Wonderful, sweet family pets who have never been aggressive can become aggressive under new circumstances. Consider that perhaps larger dogs should be secured away from smaller children, especially if these children do not know appropriate behavior towards an animal (gentle touch, animal warning signs, how to pet, not to reach into food bowl, etc.).

Ask if there are weapons in the home, and verify that they are secured and out of children’s reach.

In the United States, there is a decent chance that homes will have weapons. According to a Pew Research Center Study, “Nearly half of U.S. adults (48%) grew up in a household with guns” and “Among Americans who own a gun, nearly two-thirds (66%) say they own more than one, including 29% who own five or more.” 

Be aware of who else lives in the home, and what visitors will be allowed during childcare hours.

The individual watching your child may not be the only person in the home. Even if you secured wonderful references regarding the childcare provider, that does not ensure that a partner/spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend or child/teenager/friend wouldn’t compromise your child’s safety. Make sure you know who else will be in the home with your child.

Teach your child about their body and help them set healthy boundaries. Educate yourself on sexual abuse and be aware of grooming behaviors.

Your child is never too young to learn healthy boundaries that will keep them safe. 

  • Make sure your child learns correct anatomical terms for their body parts. Make them aware that NO other person should ask to see or touch these parts, and that they should not ask to see or touch someone else’s privates. This behavior should be reported to their parent or trusted adult.
  • Make sure your child knows that an adult shouldn’t ask a child to keep a secret and help your child discern the difference between good surprises and bad “surprises,” or surprises that call for being one-on-one or that makes them uneasy.
  • Teach your child about consent and empower them to say no when they are uncomfortable – this even includes friendly touch such as hugs. Your child has the right to decide how their body is interacted with.

Finally, please educate yourself on “grooming behaviors” and ask your child about their experience each day. If they continually get extra attention, special treats, or gifts from someone, be alert.

Don’t make assumptions. Understand what’s expected on a daily basis, and set boundaries for certain sensitive scenarios.

Set boundaries and expectations for what type of care will take place. Ask the provider about their plan for things such as

  • discipline
  • bathroom assistance or potty mistakes 
  • emergency situations 

Be listening for healthy boundaries that the caregiver has already set in place (e.g., No other person [family member, student, child of provider] should help your child in the bathroom), and be alert to any lack of planning or oversight. Also, make sure the provider knows who can pick up your child and understand who will be dismissing your child and checking at the end of the day. 

Be sure to talk to your provider about your child’s medical needs.

Make sure your childcare provider fully understands your child’s medical needs. Can the provider give your child over-the-counter medications? Does your child require prescription medications? Does your child use an epi-pen, and is the provider educated on how to use it? Does your child have allergies? Does your child have dietary restrictions? Will the provider offer snacks, and if so, what type of snacks?

Ask to take a tour.

Ask to come see the home and environment in which the children will be in. Make sure to pay attention not only to the room the children will work in, but who else is around, and also the other rooms children may visit, such as the bathroom.

Make a contract regarding your agreements and have it signed.

Having a contract ensures that no assumptions are made, that you can leave without consequences if there’s a breach of contract, and that you won’t be stuck with “but you said . . . “ Your contract should include items such as

  • Payment (how much, when, how)
  • Dates and Times (duration of childcare, days of the week, time)
  • Child’s Medical Needs 
  • Child’s Emergency Contacts
  • Boundaries (see above; discipline measures, weapons, visitors)

If a breach takes place, it’s much easier to remove your child and no longer pay the provider since the contract has been broken. It’s also easier to draw attention to the fact that they are not providing the expected care stated. It makes these conversations purely business, not personal.

Best of wishes, mama! We’re all in this together.

Kaley is a part-time working mother of three. She stands 4’10” married to her 6’1″ husband, with kids set on the growth chart to outgrow her by age 7. While not working, she enjoys literature, writing, exercising, experimental cooking (no recipe, just winging it by smell and taste!), tea (always loose leaf!), and getting to bed by 9pm (although that never happens). Follow Kaley’s blog at tuckerandkaley.wordpress.com.

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