This post is part of our series that covers all the basics you need to create or update your program's administrative paperwork. Read more at 7 Child Care Forms You Need To Run A Better Business.
Emergency preparedness is mission-critical for child care centers, and it starts with signed child care emergency forms. If you are in an emergency situation — whether due to natural, technological, biological, or man-made causes — your thoughtful planning can both minimize trauma and keep your children's emergency contacts informed about the situation.
Note that the advice below is meant to be used as a starting point for emergency preparedness, not as a guide for a complete emergency plan. Your staff, with the right training, can use child care forms as part of a larger emergency plan to take care of a child in distress and inform emergency contacts of any incidents.
Emergency form duplication and storage are critical
A physical child care emergency form or an email download is easy for parents to fill out and return, but once you get it back, don't stick it in a folder (real or virtual) without making a copy. You may need to access the form in multiple places during or after an emergency. If the property is damaged, or if you must evacuate the building or need to find information quickly for multiple children, you will need more than one way of accessing the forms.
Center management systems make it easy to keep multiple copies, especially systems that can be securely accessed on a mobile device when teachers and staff are less likely to be near their paper files or desktop computers. Be sure to ask for this feature when looking at an electronic form or filing system, and familiarize yourself with it before an emergency strikes.
Electronic systems also make child care emergency forms easily available to all staff and teachers. Siloing emergency contact information could create dangerous inefficiencies during urgent situations. For example, brightwheel allows you to access students' allergy information from the home screen of the app, which can save valuable time if you suspect a student is having a life-threatening allergic reaction.
And because emergencies vary, teachers and staff must be able to vary their communication approach.
Different emergencies require different responses
Each school or child care center could face a number of different emergency situations: children get sick or have accidents, the carbon monoxide alarm goes off, a tornado touches down in the region. And each situation requires a unique response.
Start by assessing the likelihood of different emergencies at your facility, and then plan for each possible scenario. This includes designating roles for teachers and staff, such as who is in charge of contacting emergency services and who is in charge of taking a head count.
Realize, too, that you may not need to call the emergency contacts for every child regarding every emergency. After two children with high fevers are picked up by their emergency contacts, you may want to email the rest of your families before the end of the day to let them know a bug is going around. If everyone is safe after evacuating due to a false carbon monoxide alarm, you might use an emergency text or email alert to keep parents informed. An app like brightwheel can make it easy to manage these notifications from one interface.
When the time comes to use the emergency contact information, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends communicating the following:
- What happened/is happening (e.g. type of hazard, response actions and status)
- Whether all children are accounted for
- If, when, and where it is safe for guardians to pick up their children
- What they should bring to be reunited with their children (e.g., photo ID)
In every scenario, the AAP urges you to provide information as you have it but to not speculate. You can always update people with more facts, but quickly correcting misinformation is difficult. And everyone should be trained to use various kinds of communication, from old-fashioned pay phones to the latest social media platforms.
Multiple lines of communication must be considered
Depending on the type of emergency, you may experience a disruption of normal communication methods. For example, during a power outage, your batteries will eventually die. Phone lines may be down, taking the internet with them. Cell service may be out, too. As part of your larger emergency-preparedness plan, consider the following types of emergency communication options:
- Social media pages run by your child care center
- Online parent groups in which your child care center is active
- Mass texts and communication apps, like brightwheel
- Your facility's main number at which you can leave an outgoing voicemail for worried parents and guardians
Make sure you and your staff know how to alert emergency contacts in a variety of ways. If your cell phones get left behind and you need to use social media, for example, staff need the log-in information. Similarly, make sure you have an emergency kit that any staff member can easily grab that contains emergency necessities. Also ensure all staff members have an extra cell phone charger, change for pay phones, and the location of the nearest publicly available computers with internet access.
Having these protocols in place allows teachers and staff to focus on the most important step during any child care emergency: keeping the children safe.
Reach emergency contacts after a threat has passed
In any child care emergency, the first steps are always about getting children out of danger. That might mean any of the following:
- Administering first aid
- Evacuating a classroom or building
- Calling 911 or other emergency services
- Creating a location to shelter in place
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends designating a person who will reach out to emergency contacts listed on a child's emergency form after all the necessary steps have been taken to ensure the safety of the child/children in question. This may happen in tandem, such as a staff member determining a child needs an emergency service while a staff member reaches out to that child's emergency contact(s).
Need help making a plan for your facility? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a plethora of resources specifically for early-childhood programs shaping an emergency plan. Likewise, guides may be available from your state's or province's governmental bodies, such as the Emergency Response Planning Guide for Child Care Providers from the state of Vermont or the Oregon Early Learning Emergency Preparation and Response Plan from the Oregon Department of Education.
We also offer a free emergency contact form to help get you started.
Download free child care emergency forms
If you don't already have one, download our child care emergency form template, which has all of the contact information you'll need from parents and guardians in case of an emergency.
An emergency plan goes a long way in keeping everyone as safe and informed as possible. Knowing how and when to contact parents or guardians is a crucial step. Stay ahead by distributing new child care emergency forms for every child, whether physically or electronically, at the start of the school year.
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