Providing children with a safe environment must be the most important task of any childcare center. Safety does not just mean stranger alerts or preventing injuries during outdoor play. It also includes the safety of the child inside the facility as a whole.
Providers must ensure that the facility is kept clean, well-maintained, and free of hazards. They also must make sure the early care and education professionals are informed of and following correct safety procedures.
However, more and more childcare providers are feeling the pinch of the downturn in the U.S. economy. In stressful times such as these, there is a natural tendency to increase revenue and/or reduce expenses.
Your enrolled families also may be having economic difficulties. If increasing the tuition is not a feasible option, you may be tempted to reduce the frequency of building maintenance programs and janitorial services. But can your program cut down on maintenance costs while maintaining a safe environment?
Heating and Cooling Systems
Maintenance of central air conditioning and heating units are essential safety procedures that each childcare setting must routinely follow. For example, having effective and clean filters not only prevents dust and pathogens from circulating within the building, but also helps minimize the wear and tear of the equipment and prevents premature burnout of the units.
One cost-saving option that could easily be implemented is to switch to longer lasting pleated or extended surface area filters for the air conditioning vent. Choose filters that need to be replaced every 60-90 days (depending on the type of filter) as opposed to standard panel filters that require monthly changes.
The best option is to use MERV 8 or higher filters, especially in larger buildings that use filter banks or cabinet filters. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and is a measure of the efficiency of the filter in removing particulates from the air.
This is an excellent choice for facilities that have a green or environmentally-friendly initiative. Using these higher grade filters that last longer can lower energy costs while keeping the rooms clean and safe for children. These filters can be purchased in bulk from a variety of sources at substantial cost savings.
Air conditioning and heating units should be inspected twice each year to ensure continued operational efficiency. Air conditioning units can be inspected by the company that installed the system or by a licensed and trustworthy local air conditioning contractor.
These services should not be skipped due to hard times; however, you may be able to negotiate the costs with your current service providers, or call a few different professionals to get the best deal.
Maintenance of doors and windows is another way to save on heating and cooling costs. Check the weather stripping around the exterior doors and windows annually to ensure that the strips are still effective; if needed, inexpensive replacements are available.
Kitchen and Plumbing Maintenance
Checking for plumbing issues and maintenance of kitchens and bathrooms should be performed as a part of a daily safety check. Some of the common plumbing issues are running toilets, leaky faucets, clogged toilets, and leaks under sinks and from the bases of the toilets.
Again, these hazards must be addressed to ensure the safety of the children in your care. However, some repairs may be do it yourselfers, that you or other staff can handle using guidance from the Internet or your local library. Other tasks may require the services of a competent handyman rather than a more expensive plumber.
Fire signs, pull stations, extinguishers, and sprinkler systems must be periodically inspected to ensure their safe operation in the event of an emergency. The phone line connecting the fire panel to the monitoring station also must be tested every six months. The inspections are fairly inexpensive, with a number of local companies that provide these services.
Playgrounds should meet Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) guidelines for public playground safety. While tough economic times may postpone plans to add equipment or expand the play area, you should not ignore daily maintenance and upkeep.
Outside play areas and play systems should be checked daily for hazards such as debris in the play area. More complete inspections should be performed monthly, such as looking for loose or broken parts.
Maintenance of appropriate resilient surfacing in playground equipment use zones is essential for safety and must be part of the recurring building maintenance plan. Resource agencies such as the National Program for Playground Safety offer checklists and other information.
Janitorial services also may be targeted to cut costs. If you hire an outside service, identify their specific responsibilities and eliminate overlap with daily responsibilities. For example, if caregivers sanitize tables and chairs daily, then you do not need to pay an external provider to repeat that responsibility.
Another option is to hire an in-house janitor who may also work part time as a cook or a driver (with proper credentials). This allows for considerable cost savings when compared to external janitorial services.
Keeping the facility clean and hygienic not only keeps the children healthy, but also minimizes staff absenteeism by reducing illnesses staff may be exposed to from children. Train staff to consider program maintenance on a daily basis.
A chart for cleaning and maintenance is a good start to help staff be aware of their responsibilities. Keep in mind, however, that overworked caregivers can lead to costly staff turnover.
Educate Both Adults and Children
Safety procedures must be established and followed by each early care and education professional to ensure safety of the children. Develop safety check sheets and train staff to conduct routine safety checks.
By taking a proactive role in following safety procedures and addressing common sensible building maintenance issues, the overall impact on the budget can be significant.
Anitha S. Thomas and John Verghese
Co-owners, Kids R Kids at Meadow Pointe
Wesley Chapel, FL
Green Filters, www.green-air-filters.com/pdfs/homewood-schools-case-study.pdf and news.thomasnet.com/fullstory/540618
National Health and Safety Performance Standards, Guidelines for Out-of-Home Child Care Programs, nrckids.org/CFOC/index.html
National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), University of Northern Iowa Human Performance Center 103, Cedar Falls, IA 50614; 800-554-PLAY; www.playgroundsafety.org
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 4330 East West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814; 800-638-2772; www.cpsc.gov