While the general consensus (even from many health professionals) is that exposing children to some germs is essential for boosting their immune systems, the reality is that most of the illnesses that stem from child care centres are pretty contagious. A sick child is one thing, but when the whole family gets sick, it’s quite another.
Child care centres face unique hygiene challenges
The simple fact of the matter is that children are generally much more likely to contract illnesses in childcare centres than at home, because, in a nutshell, at a child care centre, a child is contact with multiple children all at the same time, and infections can spread easily.
A good sneeze can release around 45,000 nasal droplets and these can travel more than one and a half meters!
Young children are also yet to learn the importance of covering their coughs, wiping their noses, washing their hands and to stop putting things in their mouths. But it’s also a scientific fact that bacteria can survive for hours and even days on many surfaces.
The most important factor in mitigating the spread of bacteria in any child care centre is a good hygiene regime.
While child care staff have a responsibility to wipe up spills, clean up toileting accidents or vomit, any occupational health and safety policy should also include when to undertake a general wipe over communal surfaces – ideally as many times as possible during the day – for example, before and after activities, and particularly before and after mealtimes. The policy should also outline regular cleaning of toys and learning equipment (including books) in order to keep germs at bay.
Other things childcare centres can do to keep bugs to a minimum and ensure good hygiene practices are:
- Hire experienced specialist commercial cleaners. Commercial cleaning services which specialise in childcare centres can assist in preventing the spread of illness-causing bacteria and viruses by disinfecting all surfaces daily. Experienced cleaners will know the germ ‘hot spots’, like door handles and changing tables, and obviously toilets and will ensure they are thoroughly cleaned to protect both staff and children. Experienced cleaners can also be trusted to come into the premises after hours – this means that if they do need to use chemicals, little people are not around and there’s no risk of exposure. Experienced cleaners also have the appropriate equipment to get to ‘hard to reach’ places like air-conditioning vents, which can be a harbour for germs.
- Hygiene for the hands Simple, but thorough hand washing is recognised world-wide as one of the most important ways of helping to stop the spread of illnesses and promote good hygiene. In child care centres, staff should have ready access to disposable gloves at all times, as well as antibacterial wipes or gel when it’s not possible for them to wash their hands. The little people in their care need also need to be taught that thorough hand washing is very important. It’s widely agreed that if you use warm, soapy water and you’ve sung ‘happy birthday’ while lathering your hands, wrists, fingers and your fingernails, then you’ve done a thorough job, so long as you also dry your hands meticulously afterwards.
- Keeping sick staff and children at home All child care centres should have, and enforce, a strict exclusion policy which outlines the circumstances for sending a sick child home, and also when it is appropriate for a sick child to return to day care. Parents should be aware of this policy so they can put alternative child care arrangements in place if necessary. The exclusion policy should also apply to staff. Cleaning can assist with limiting the spread of germs, but the best way to mitigate illness in your child care centre is to aim to prevent germs coming in, in the first place. This can only be done by ensuring that the sick person stays at home, until their illness has passed.
- Teach children the basics Day care is the perfect environment for teaching little people the etiquette of keeping their germs to themselves. Child care is an important part of a little person’s social and educational development, and helping them to learn the importance of staying healthy by keeping their own hands clean, as well as being respectful of others by using tissues and disposing of them properly as well as covering their coughs, or sitting out of play time if they feel unwell can go a long way towards helping keep germs at bay and will ultimately have an impact on limiting the spread of illnesses.