A guest post by Jennifer Walker:
Our heart in preschool ministry is to send children home with a great sense of the love of Jesus instead of five to seven days of vomiting and diarrhea. With new diseases and the usual suspects like the flu and the dreaded stomach virus, it is more and more important to take active steps to help prevent the spread of diseases within the walls of the preschool ministry.
The best ways to ward off community-spread illnesses are to develop clear health guidelines, provide training and support for volunteers, and develop a sustainable system of disinfection.
Granted, some illnesses are most contagious 24 hours prior to the onset of any noticeable symptoms, such as Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease and Chicken Pox. There is little we can do to prevent these sneaky childhood illnesses. However, developing clear health guidelines will help protect children from illnesses that do have clear symptoms and can easily be spread.
The guidelines should be clearly displayed in the drop-off area and a copy should be signed by every parent when they fill out their general information/newcomer sheets.
Here is an example of appropriate health guidelines:
Because it is a priority at (insert name of ministry) to promote a love for God and others in a healthy and safe environment, we ask each parent to come into agreement with us about the types of symptoms that would prevent a child from safely interacting with others.
- Fever above 101 degrees F in past 24 hours
- Difficulty breathing or persistent, barking cough
- Rash that has any discharge, looks like an irritated pimple, is accompanied by a fever, or has an unknown cause (other than diaper rash)
- Diarrhea that contains blood or mucus or has occurred more than three times in the past 24 hours
- Vomiting two or more times during the previous 24 hours
- Frequent, colored eye discharge with pink coloring to the white part of the eye
- Strep throat (Streptococcal pharyngitis), until 24 hours after treatment has been initiated
- Flu-like symptoms such as fever, lethargy and a frequent hacking cough
I have read and understand the above health guidelines and agree to disclose any above symptoms and any illness my child may develop that may be contagious, in the interest of maintaining a safe and healthy environment for the children at (insert ministry name).
If a child arrives with any of the symptoms mentioned above or develops these symptoms while in your care, the following statement will help direct the parent in the proper course of action.
“All the children in this ministry are so valuable to us and I am sure that you understand that we can not risk exposing the other children to an illness. We look forward to having (insert name) back with us as soon as they feel better.”
Following this statement up with a ‘Get Well’ card on Monday will continue to diffuse any hard feelings. This statement can even be incorporated into your volunteer training.
This brings us to the second vital element in helping keep the “bugs” out of your ministry—volunteer support and training. Volunteers should be provided with the proper equipment in order to minimize the spread of any bacteria. Each changing station should have latex gloves, germicidal cleansers that are kept well out of the reach of the children, and a hand-washing station.
Working in preschool ministry, one is sure to be exposed to runny noses, stinky diapers, and all the drool that one can tolerate. Therefore, gloves should be worn with each diaper change, and volunteers should wash their hands frequently.
Hand sanitizers have become increasingly popular over the past few years but they can be deadly if swallowed. They have such a high alcohol content that even a dime-sized amount can be dangerous if swallowed. Soap and water and a scrub in the sink is the preferred method of cleaning hands. Hand sanitizer can be used if it is kept out of the reach of children and the process is well monitored.
If a sink is not available, scrubbing the children’s hands with a baby wipe will suffice. None of these items, however, will be helpful if the volunteers do not know how to locate them and are not reminded in regular training sessions to use them for the safety of the children.
These training sessions should include a short checklist that will ensure a sustainable method of disinfection. Hard surfaces and plastic toys should be wiped down with a germicidal cleanser and left to air dry. The diaper area should be inspected so all the items that are essential for this area such as gloves, wipes, and extra diapers are available, and the diaper area should be cleaned thoroughly. Finally, use a germicidal cloth to clean the play mats and doorknobs. It should be clear whose responsibility it is to clean so that this important task does not get overlooked. Having a file where completed cleaning checklists are kept is also a great way to protect the preschool environment.
We can’t underestimate the value of helping parents feel comfortable about leaving their beloved children in our care. Having an environment where we minimize the risk of spreading communicable diseases in the rooms where stool, drool, and the love of God abounds will go a long way with parents.
If we will communicate clearly with both the parents, so they know what to expect, and the volunteers, so they know how to disinfect, we are well on our way to contributing to the overall good health of the children that we so dearly love.
Jennifer Walker is the co-author of the Moms On Call Parenting Books (0-6 months, 6-15 Months and Toddlers) and the co-founder of www.MomsOnCall.com.
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