It’s that time of year again. No, I don’t mean the holiday season. I mean the time of year when everyone seems to be sniffling. This just happens to coincide with the chorus of “but they are not really sick” and other parent excuses for why their child is showing signs of illness. So today we are going to dig into what a quality Sick and Illness Policy for Childcare looks like. So get a coffee cause this one is gonna be in-depth!
Developing a Sick and Illness Policy for Childcare
What’s the Issue?
This post was actually inspired by a question a colleague friend of mine asked, “Do you know the specific regulation that speaks to the need to excuse children with “green mucus” noses?” She said, “This is a common issue with parents and I would love to have the specific regulation information to refer to.” Apparently, she had a newish client that was challenging her sick and illness policy.
Can you say been there?
I think some parents get it in their head providers just want to send kids home for no reason.
Here’s how it goes; a new parent wants to know what your Sick and Illness Policy is, the stricter the better. They are so on board with it!
That is until it affects their child. Then you hear all the excuses. The same song “Oh I think she’s just teething.” or “He was fine at home.”
What do the Regs Say?
I actually thought this would be an easy one. I would just go pull the regulation and that would be that.
After three days of research, I was finally informed by my Child Care Advocate that “There is no specific regulation that addresses green mucus noses. I personally have heard differing opinions on if green mucus indicates an infection is present or not.” She continued “I have included the section of Title 22* that pertains to illness and I would encourage you to review the illness policy of a particular center as far as what is allowed and what isn’t.”
Wait! What? Which center? Should I just pick one?
Additionally according to CDSS CCL Online Orientation Help Desk for Family Child Homes, “There is not a regulation that enforces when a child can come back to daycare. It is up to the licensee to have a policy that they communicate with the parents on what their rules are for accepting a child back into care after an illness”.
*Title 22 refers to the California Childcare Regulations.
No backup from licensing!
Apparently, daycare centers are required to have an illness policy as part of their parent handbooks. However, is not a requirement of family child care, though. : (
RANT TIME: Out of all the regulations that providers have to adhere to, I thought it was particularly negligent of the state not to have specific parameters to guide family child care providers regarding when a child is not healthy enough to be in care.
Mind you in my state licensing has a list of what plants you can’t have, but not which illnesses should be excused from childcare! SMH
The Parent Challenge
Not too many years ago I remember contacting a parent to tell them that their child had illness symptoms. It went something like this:
When it comes to parents challenging the sick & illness policy, believe me, I have been there. I think probably a lot of providers can relate.
The same song “Oh I think she’s just teething.” or “He was fine at home.” I actually had a parent almost refuse to pick up their feverish child stating they had a very important meeting to attend.
Most FCC are licensed as “well-child” facilities.
I have had parents challenge me on whether I took the temperature the right way. Parents have inquired if it was ok for a child to return because they gave them Tylenol and they “no longer have a fever.” A parent even asked me “Oh, we (adults) can get the kids sick?” Really! She really asked me that!
Now don’t get me wrong, I get it. Parents have to work. That’s probably the main reason most of us can stay in business. But while that is true, providers are responsible for maintaining a clean, healthy environment for all of the children at the childcare. Not to mention for the provider’s own health and wellness.
With that goal in mind, providers should have in place a comprehensive Sick and Illness Policy for Childcare. If we have something solid in place then it should be (hopefully) easier to enforce with parents.
A Common Sense Policy
So if we can’t count on licensing for a policy when we need it, what do we do? Develop one for ourselves!
I think even though there might not be a state licensing policy, it is our responsibility to develop a common-sense sick & illness policy for our businesses. From a quality standpoint, our policy should be comprehensive to ensure that our smaller well-baby environments are kept as healthy as possible.
At a minimum, your policy should include:
- When a child is too ill to attend your childcare (specific illnesses and symptoms)
- What is the protocol for when a child gets ill at the childcare
- When it is acceptable for the child to return (symptom-free)
It is important to keep in mind that the following information is meant to help providers develop a common-sense Sick and Illness Policy for Childcare that can be used for their businesses regardless of the state or region they reside in.
Policies that you can adapt and customize:
This policy by The Children’s Hospital School Health Program of Denver is very comprehensive. It starts by outlining for parents “Three reasons to keep (exclude) sick children from school”. Then they use a very easy to read grid to explain when it is ok and when it is not ok to send a child to school.
Another well-written document is the Sick Policy of Christ Lutheran Child Care Center. They go into great detail (this is a 6-page document) to explain why parents should read and understand their policy. Then they explain the responsibilities of the child care center as it pertains to maintaining a healthy center. I particularly like how they ask that parents become partners with the center to “keep children healthy and feeling well.”
I like how this policy memo by Back to Basics Childcare Center, Inc. requires the parent to sign the document confirming that they have read and understood their policy. But most parents read our policies right? (wink-wink)
It is important to note that since, as I stated before, there seems to be no specific regulation Sick and Illness Policy for Childcare, a provider can and should develop a policy that works best for their business. That being said, you can cut, paste and customize whatever elements from the above policies you like and use them as your own.
This is the important part so … Don’t skip this!
Now listen, just because we might not have the weight of a licensing regulation to back us up, that does not mean we should not have and enforce a common sense Sick and Illness Policy for Childcare.
The thing is YOU will have to stand behind your policies. Just like your contract, you will need to ensure you are following the rules just as much as your clients. So pull out your backbone and try not to waiver or make too many exceptions.
Three EASY ways to enforce your policy
- Create a separate document or flyer for your Sick and Illness Policy for Childcare. Try to use (borrow one if you need to) a graphic to illustrate the key thresholds of your policy. The purpose: so it will stand out and hopefully be read.
- Perform well-baby checks regularly (if not daily). Get a really good thermometer and do random checks. Centers do this so why shouldn’t we?
- Remind parents of your policy. Don’t be afraid to send out reminders (especially during cold and flu season) of what the sick and illness policy states. When a child is excused, follow up with a policy reminder about when it is acceptable for them to return. Yeah, this is a little more work but a little for a lot less frustration is a fair trade.
Graphics are Great
I actually love this graphic by the Seattle-King County Department of Health (I have seen it circulated so much). Feel free to use this in your paperwork, handbook, reminder notes. As a matter of fact, I think I might even be posting this on my parent info board, especially at this time of the year.
The Bottom Line
The fact of the matter is no policy is going to be bulletproof! Sad but true!
Parents are probably going to challenge whatever your policy is. The important thing is for you to have a policy that works for your business, protects all of the children in care and that you will enforce.
Because the bottom line is most of us know that the aforementioned “stricter the better” policy is most likely the one that keeps the most illnesses at bay.