Daycare Worker Shortages and Your Child’s Care
If you were to Google “picking the right daycare for my child,” you would come across thousands of results. Many of them are reputable and helpful for identifying the right daycare for your family. They’ll likely involve tips for recognizing proper facilities, educational activities, and attentive caregivers, as these are all important factors to consider.
What many of these resources might fail to address, however, is the severe trend that daycare facilities have been experiencing for several years: a shortage of reliable staff. And while it may be easier to assume that a truly experienced caretaker can surely handle the sole responsibility of watching a large group of kids, the reality is, a lack of caretakers can result in a dangerous ratio for your children.
But daycare facilities and the informational blogs associated with them likely won’t let you in on that fact. They’re running a business, after all. The more kids visiting their facilities, the more money they make. They need your child’s attendance to stay afloat, and as such, often won’t make public the staffing shortage they’re facing.
That means it’s up to you, as the parent, to make sure the daycare facility you’re considering meets all the requirements your child deserves—including the correct number of staff members to safely watch over them.
The Realities of Daycare Staff Shortages
A recent survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children found that more than half of its 7,500 respondents are currently experiencing difficulties recruiting and retaining daycare staff. And up to 80% of these respondents are experiencing ongoing staffing shortages, meaning they have more than one role unfulfilled for a month or longer.
The downward trend in daycare staffing isn’t new—it’s just become more and more noticeable as fewer children are entering such facilities. But that may not be directly correlated with your initial assumptions about the cause, such as public health concerns. In general, a changing economy is forcing caretakers—who don’t often make much more than minimum wage—to leave their positions in favor of higher-paying jobs. Similarly, it’s forcing people entering or re-entering the workforce to overlook such jobs.
But as mentioned, these facilities are someone’s business and livelihood, so they continue to operate as best they can; even if that means being understaffed and risking the safety of the kids left in their care. Many of these facilities are even turning to hiring uncertified or unregulated staff members who may not have the training needed to care for kids day in and day out.
What Can Happen if Daycares are Understaffed
Young children who are left in daycare facilities typically remain very active during their time there. Daycares try to keep a schedule of engaging activities in an attempt to not only enrich and socialize your children, but as a way to keep so many kids preoccupied at once. It’s easy to envision the sorts of accidents that can happen with your children during any one of these activities, such as injury during play. And we say “accidents” because accidents certainly do happen, and that’s natural.
What isn’t natural is when these “accidents” seem to reoccur with your child. If your child comes home from daycare with consistent injuries or other trauma, that usually points to a clear sign: They aren’t being properly watched or cared for by the daycare staff. Or even more troublesome to consider is that the staff may be directly causing their injuries.
While scrapes and bruises are no fun, and broken bones or other severe injuries can be traumatizing for any child, there are cases of even worse situations occurring in daycare facilities every year. Debilitating occurrences, such as traumatic brain injuries, have been known to happen at the hands of someone who was thought to be professionally trained to prevent these kinds of things from happening.
But no matter how extensively trained you are or how many years of experience you have, there is such a thing as too many kids to safely keep track of. And that’s precisely the problem understaffing causes.
A Real-Life Childcare Trauma Story
Think something so serious could never happen to your child? One very real-life scenario proves that it can and does. Jamie Otis-Hehner is a typical wife and mother in many ways, but most people recognize her thanks to her appearance on the 16th season of The Bachelor, as well as her participation on the show Married at First Sight. And others still may solely recognize her because of her openness in sharing her nephew’s horrific story about trauma experienced with a caretaker.
Otis-Hehner’s younger sister dropped her baby off with caretakers like any normal day, only to receive a call several hours later that he had been having seizures and was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital. Mom arrived to discover her son unresponsive and with a broken clavicle, brain bruising and bleeding, and bruises all over his body. The medical staff was able to stabilize him, but he had regressed from being able to sit up on his own to being unable to hold his head up by himself. Essentially, he was now behaving like a newborn when he was previously behaving like a typical six-month-old. Coupled with ongoing bleeding and vision issues, it’s going to be a long road to recovery for the little guy. If full recovery is even possible.
A lofty investigation into exactly how such extensive injuries occurred is underway. Our legal expertise points us to believe that first and foremost, investigators will be scrutinizing every inch of the daycare facility and associated staff. And it’s with good reason because in this particular case, doctors haven’t willingly attributed the injuries to the baby simply being dropped. They suspect much more foul play than that. So investigators may discover understaffing, improper care techniques, or even more troublesome factors.
Since the story has been made public on social media, hundreds of parents just like Otis-Hehner’s sister have come forward to share their own stories of their child’s trauma caused by a lack of proper third-party care. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone.
The Legal Responsibilities of Daycare Facilities
We don’t share these real-life stories and scenarios to scare you. Many daycare facilities are wonderfully staffed, fully compliant with state rules and laws, and do everything in their power to make sure the children in their care are safe. But for every such fantastic facility, there are undoubtedly ones that just don’t operate on the same basis of morals and responsibility. And we want you to be well aware of that when making your caregiving choices.
Luckily, there are some pretty strict laws that daycare facilities in the state of Missouri are required to adhere to. For example, facilities must follow strict ratios of care providers to children:
- Children ages 0-2 require 1 provider to 4 children
- 2-year-old children require 1 provider to 8 children
- Children ages 3-4 require 1 provider to 10 children
- 5-year-olds and older require 1 provider to 16 children
The ratio gap increases with the child’s age because as the child grows older, they can care for themselves in more ways than their younger counterparts. But this doesn’t mean they don’t still need adequately attentive supervision.
You should also know that just because you signed a waiver with your facility or care provider doesn’t mean you cannot hold them responsible for their actions. Standard care waivers are generally used as authority for facilities to provide medical treatment to your kids, such as addressing scrapes and burns should they occur or to call an ambulance on your child’s behalf.
Clauses within the waiver may state that you release the daycare provider of any responsibility should your child be injured, but this is to prevent the provider from being frivolously sued. These waivers do not protect the facility from careless or negligent actions—that includes improper behavior by their staff and the facility as a whole.
If you’re looking into daycare providers for your children, take into very careful consideration the number of caretakers they have on their staff, as well as the background of said caretakers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, demand proof of lawful compliance, and speak up if you suspect negligent behavior. Doing so could mean all the difference for your child’s well-being.
If you suspect daycare abuse, you can report it to the state of Missouri by calling the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-392-3738.