Harmful or Abusive Childcare Situations

This article explains how to avoid or deal effectively with harmful or abusive childcare environments.

In this article, you will find:

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Harmful or Abusive Childcare Situations

Because you have done your homework before leaving your child with a caregiver for the first time, the chances of your child being placed in a dangerous childcare setting are minimal. At the same time, you do need to be continually aware of your child's day care environment in case circumstances change. Harmful situations are not limited to outright cases of child abuse. Neglect by a caregiver can prove to be just as dangerous to children as can allowing a hazardous condition to occur in the child's environment.

The best way to keep your child safe is to prevent a dangerous situation before it happens. This requires you to be vigilant by watching for signs of potential problems, communicating with the caregiver as well as your child, and being prepared to address immediately any issues about which you may be worried. This seems obvious, but often times parents are hesitant to voice concerns over things they observe at the facility or new behaviors in their child they find disturbing. They do not want to be perceived as troublemakers, and they may fear their questioning of the caregiver will cause her to resent the entire family, with a negative effect being felt by their child. It is of the utmost importance, however, that you do not ignore signs of trouble in the childcare setting, even if the indications are little more than your own gut instincts. When you have a little voice in your head telling you that there is a problem, you need to investigate further.

If you are reluctant to speak with the caregiver about a problem situation, try first to phrase your concern in the form of a question. Present the situation using facts, not opinions (if possible), then ask the childcare provider why she thinks this problem exists. For example, you could say, "My child seems to be agitated in the mornings when we are in the car coming to day care. He never acted this way in the past. I am stumped—do you have any idea why he might be acting like this?" Gauge the caregiver's reaction. If she becomes defensive or is dismissive of your concerns, that does not by itself mean that there is a problem. It might, however, give you a reason to reconsider whether this is the best care arrangement for your child.

Preventing the Harmful Environment
Preventing a harmful environment can be summed up with one word—attention. Pay attention to your child; pay attention to the childcare provider; and, pay attention to the facility. You took a close look at the childcare environment before you decided to enroll your child, but your responsibility does not end there. Continued mindfulness of the conditions at your child's day care is crucial to keeping him or her safe.

Observing the facility on a daily basis at drop-off and pickup times is one way to monitor conditions there. If you and your spouse do not normally bring your child to day care yourselves, try to come in from time to time during the course of the day. Making periodic unscheduled visits can give you an idea of how the facility is run when the day care providers are not expecting company. If this is not possible because of the distance from the facility to your workplace, you can talk to other families with children at the facility to see that safety and care standards remain consistently high.

When your childcare provider is a nanny or au pair, asking a neighbor or relative to drop by on occasion can help you keep tabs on the situation. Installing a video surveillance system (nanny cam) in your home is another option. (The pros and cons of nanny cams are discussed in greater detail in Monitoring the Childcare Situation.)

If childcare is provided in your home, you clearly have more control over the environment than if your child is cared for outside of the home. There are a number of resources to help you ensure that your home is safe even when you are not there to supervise. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), for example, provides information about household products that have been recalled due to safety hazards they may present. The CPSC may be reached at 301-504-7923 or online at www.cpsc.gov. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care is another information source for parents and caregivers alike, with tips on subjects such as various child illnesses and conditions, administering medications, and health and dental check-ups. You can contact the National Resource Center at 800-598-5437, or view its website at http://nrc.uchsc.edu.