Make sure your church isn’t spreading disease among its kids

By Laura J. Brown

It’s unlikely that you could ever eradicate all germs from a church nursery, preschool or daycare center. However, there are several proven steps that can be taken to limit the spread of colds, infections and childhood illnesses. Hand washing is chief among them both for those who work in the nursery and the children in their care.

Why do kids get sick from staying in the nursery? There are several factors at work, both among kids and the people who care for them.

Close contact. Infants and small children come into close physical contact with each other and the people caring for them. Volunteers can unintentionally spread disease to themselves and other children simply by doing their job: changing diapers, feeding children, wiping noses and handling toys the children play with. They’re typically not trained in infection control, nor does anyone monitor their hygiene practices.

Drool, slobber, spit, and stuff. Infants don’t know how germs are spread. They suck their thumbs, chew on toys, drool on people, and don’t ask for tissues when their noses run. They can’t wash their own hands, and they find it hard to avoid grabbing toys that other children may have slobbered on. In a nursery setting, failing to wash hands and isolate contaminated toys until they can be sanitized can place workers and other kids at risk of catching infections.

Inexperienced immune system. Young children are still developing immunity against disease. As a result, they’re more prone to catch new infections to which they are exposed.

Diapers. Infant and toddler areas, where children still wear diapers, frequently experience a higher rate of diarrheal disease. Contamination of hands, communal toys, and other classroom objects is common. Outbreaks are more rare in groups of toilet-trained children.

What can we do about it? Doctors have studied ways to reduce disease transmission at daycare centers. What they’ve found is that simple hygiene practices, such as frequent and proper hand washing, can help to lower the rates of illness.

Highlight hand washing.
Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection in childcare settings, but its importance is often disregarded. Workers should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and warm running water for at least 10 seconds to rinse germs away, and then dry with a disposable paper towel. This should be done upon arrival and when moving from one childcare group to another. Workers should wash before and after eating, handling food, or feeding a child. Workers should also wash after diapering, using the toilet, helping a child use the toilet, or handling bodily fluid (sneezes, runny noses, drooling mouths, sores, etc.). Hand sanitizers do not substitute for hand washing.

Decontaminate diaper areas. Staff and volunteers need regular training on how to properly change diapers and disinfect diaper-changing areas. For guidance, download Caring for Our Children, a set of national health and safety guidelines produced jointly by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care.

Disinfect daily. Wipe down all surfaces with a disinfectant. This includes counters, tables, chairs, swings, cribs and activity saucers. If hospital-grade sanitizers are unavailable, one cup of bleach to one gallon of water makes an effective substitute.

Sanitize toys.
Each week, all books, dolls and anything battery operated or mechanical should be wiped down with disinfectant and allowed to dry. Everything else should soak in bleach water at least 15 minutes to overnight. Sanitize toys more often if your nursery, preschool, or daycare center is used during the week.

Forego fluff. Avoid stuffed animals and soft dolls. Germs can live for a long time in the fur of stuffed animals and the fabric bodies of dolls. Even doll clothes could innocently pass germs from one child to another. Allow children to bring their own blankets or stuffed animals, but don’t let them share.

Contain contagion.
Create and communicate a policy that you will provide childcare only to healthy children. For example, your policy might include a clause allowing only children that have been fever-free and diarrhea-free for the past 24 hours.

Launder linens. Use fresh linens in cribs for each child, regardless of how long the previous child napped there. Consider placing a fresh receiving blanket down each time you insert a child into an infant swing or activity saucer, since fabric seats are difficult to clean and may transmit germs from one child to another.

Train and train again.
Make sure your staff and volunteers have been properly trained on hygiene practices for limiting the spread of infection. A high rate of volunteer turnover may require additional effort to educate all workers. Also, realize that proper hygiene is most likely to occur when the required equipment is readily available. If your childcare area lacks sinks, soap, or hand towels, proper hand washing is unlikely to occur.

Daycare centers that have made frequent and proper hand washing part of their curriculum have seen their illness rates decline, especially those involving diarrhea. You may not manage to scrub away the common cold, but you could help keep children and volunteers healthier by increasing your church nursery’s emphasis on hygiene.

Laura J. Brown is a writer and communications specialist with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co., Fort Wayne, IN. [].

It’s snack time: Have you considered food allergies?

The number of American children with food allergies has soared 18 percent in the last decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, an estimated 4 percent of children and teens are affected by food allergies. This makes it more likely that church volunteers may encounter a child who is sensitive to a food served during snack time.

Mild allergic reactions can involve hives or a tingling sensation around the mouth and lips. Severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis, can lead to death. Just eight types of foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

Food allergies in children can sometimes be so severe that they may not even have to ingest the food for a reaction to occur. A child who is allergic to milk can have a skin reaction just by putting one hand in a few drops of milk spilled on a table. A knife that is used to spread peanut butter may accidentally be used to slice a jelly sandwich for a child who is allergic to peanuts. Even the smallest bit of peanut butter can be very dangerous to a child with peanut allergies.

Do you know how many children in your childcare program have food allergies? Do have policies and procedures in place to protect these children, as well as to prepare your staff and volunteers how to handle an adverse reaction?

Here are some tips to consider:

Determine how you will identify and care for children with special medical needs, like food allergies. Have an attorney review your policy.

Read the entire list of ingredients before serving any snack. Even foods that seem safe may contain hidden ingredients that can cause allergic reactions.

When in doubt, don’t serve it. If a food is in question, do not have it in the same room as a child with a food allergy.

Know how to use an EpiPen and be ready to use it at all times. (Check with the child’s parents; a prescription is required for an EpiPen.)

Train all ministry staff and volunteers about what symptoms to look for and how to respond.

Educating your staff and volunteers about food allergies can help them prevent snack time from becoming a crisis.   — Laura J. Brown


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