Children at risk in day care - Scores of early-childhood institutions still not safe
With several early-childhood institutions (ECIs) still unable to meet all the guidelines to be certified, Jamaicans are being urged to choose wisely when registering their young children for the new school year.
Only 61 of the country's more than 2,600 ECIs are now certified while another 150 have been granted a permit to operate. Given this reality, parents will have to do their checks to minimise the risks to their children.
Among the requirements not met by scores of these institutions are the provision of a police records and other documents for their staff.
Director of Regulations and Monitoring at the Early Childhood Commission (ECC), Norda Seymour-Hall, said the submission of a police record for each staff member is important to ensure that children are not being taught by someone who has been convicted of a sexual offence.
"We have seen cases where persons have an institution at their house and other persons have access to the children. We had a case where a bathroom was being shared and there were allegations that the child was molested, and that was something that was pursued legally," Seymour-Hall told The Sunday Gleaner.
She said that schools are certified based on 12 standards, and the ECC has been making every effort to educate ECI operators of these. Some school administrators, however, have been reluctant to meet the standards.
"Sometimes operators may feel that they are being pressured, but these things are so important, [like] having a perimeter fence in place for safety. When an older child can easily get away from an animal, a three-year-old is far more vulnerable," said Seymour-Hall.
"Sometimes people say the fencing is too expensive, but we have had a case before where the school wasn't fenced and a goat was able to come on the premises and headbutt the child, and the child eventually became blind," she added.
The ECC has already hosted five certification fairs and will be hosting another on August 29 to give operators access to agencies that can provide them with the necessary documents to meet the standards.
"Over the years, we have been using moral suasion. We have been trying to educate the institutions. We have been trying to ensure that cultural revolution takes place, and now we are at the point where we are definitely partnering with many groups and working deliberately towards getting the schools fully certified," said Seymour-Hall.
WARNING! Before you register your child at an early childhood institution check:
Has the school applied for registration with the Early Childhood Commission? Does the institution have a permit to operate?
What were the results of the last inspection report? Reports for a number of ECIs are on the ECC website.
What is the staff like? Can they help your child achieve his/her full potential? Do they have the knowledge, skills and attitude required? Do they have any training in early childhood development and at what level? Is there at least one trained teacher at the institution?
Can the school development and education programmes meet the language, physical, cognitive, creative, socio-emotional and school readiness needs of your child? How do the practitioners interact with children?
Is there adequate space for children to move around? Do babies have crawling space. Cribs should be at least three feet apart for instance.
Is the school abiding by the necessary public health regulations? Is the school clean? Do they have a cleaning schedule? You can ask to see that schedule.
Does the building meet the requirements of the fire department? You need to ensure that the indoor and outdoor equipments, furnishings and supplies are safe. Look at the playground equipment. It is recommended that the safety surfacing should extend six feet in perimeter of the play equipment so that if there is a fall, that can be cushioned by the safety surface.
Ensure that toys are clean. Infants like to put toys in their mouths. You would want to ensure that those are being cleaned at least daily in some instances where necessary and weekly in other instances.
Ensure that menus are displayed and you can find out what your child is eating.