Summer is a time of liberation for kids—school's out, vacation's here. But for parents, it can be a time of concern—about a child's safety when it comes to summer camp, summer daycare, or even whether a child is mature and prepared enough to stay home alone for part of the time.
"Every parent knows how difficult it can be to make sure you're making the right decisions about your child's arrangements for the summer. It's always a worry," said Angela Liddle, executive director of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA).
PFSA is a statewide nonprofit agency that provides advice on good parenting practices, advocates for the protection of Pennsylvania's children, and trains professionals how to recognize and report child abuse.
"We've had a lot of experience dealing with the safety of children and we've developed some basic questions parents should consider," Liddle said.
Here are some basic checklists:
- Looks can be deceiving, so ask for references.
- Ask if it's accredited by the American Camp Association.
- What are the camp director's credentials?
- What's the camp's philosophy? (For example, some camps promote competition and rivalry among teams. How does the camp philosophy fit with your child's personality?)
- How are behavioral and disciplinary problems handled?
- Are staff members safety-trained and capable of handling emergencies?
- Are staff members informed about child abuse prevention? Have they undergone background checks?
- What's the counselor-to-camper ratio? The younger the campers, the higher the ratio of staff to campers should be. Counselors should be at least two years older than the kids they supervise.
Daycare or Day Camp Programs
- Ask about credentials and philosophy, the same as you would when evaluating an away camp.
- Inspect the daycare facility for cleanliness.
- Are there fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and first aid kits? Does the staff know CPR?
- Are toxic substances like cleaning supplies and pest killers safely well away from children?
- Are play areas properly heated or cooled, spacious enough, well lit? If there's an outdoor play area, is it safe?
- Are toys and equipment clean? Are they age-appropriate?
- If provided, are snacks and meals healthy?
- Is the staff trained to deal with issues unique to young children?
- Are caregivers trained to dispense medications?
- Is there a security policy about who can pick up your child?
- Does the program keep records proving that all enrolled children are up-to-date on required immunizations?
- Contrary to popular belief there's no legal age that defines when a child can or should be left home alone. It's up to each parent to assess their child and decide what's best.
- Ask yourself some basic questions about your child's readiness. Does your child follow your rules and instructions? Does your child know how to use the telephone, work the locks at home, and safely operate basic appliances? Do you have confidence your child could handle an unexpected situation without panicking? Can your child handle being home alone without being afraid?
- If you're not sure, do a trial run. If you're satisfied your child's ready, set out some basic rules, such as:
- Check in with a parent by phone (or with a neighbor) as soon as you get home.
- Don't accept rides from strangers.
- Don't let anyone know you're home alone and don't let anyone in without a parent's permission.
- Carry your house key in a safe spot and don't hide it under a doormat or on a door ledge or anywhere else it's easy to find.
- Teach your child how to call 911 and give directions to your home.
- Teach your child how to escape from your house if there's a fire.
- Make sure children understand that you want them to let you know if anything frightens them or makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Don't assume an older child is capable of caring for a younger one.
Liddle said, "It should go without saying, but it never hurts to repeat, that in choosing a summer camp or a daycare program or in deciding if it's time for a child to be able to stay at home alone, the safety of the child is and always should be the first priority."