When I first saw the news about the assault on a 10 month old baby at a daycare in Navi Mumbai, my first reaction was that probably I was right in deciding to give-up my job to take care of my kids. Because the best place where our kids will be safe is ‘home’. But that was a choice that I made; I am one individual, my priorities and prerogatives in life could be / are different from other individuals. There are several mothers who for reasons best understood by them and their partners continue working. Sending their child to a Day Care facility is not an easy decision in the first place. Couples first look for options within the family if they can ask any of their parents to come and stay with them, or look for domestic help from among the known circle so that enough trust is there on the person who would take care of the child at home. But these options are limited and feasibility of practicing the same even meeker. Sending the child to the Day Care remains the last retort for such parents. Instances such as the recent one always force all such parents to revisit their decision.
We Indians often feel that our country is still not developed enough in many aspects as compared to other developed nations. Childcare/Daycare culture is one such aspect, where I have always felt that we lag far behind the European and American countries. During frequent interactions with my friends in the US or Australia I have drawn a general perception that for parents in those countries kids going to a Daycare is an eventuality which the parents and children come to accept very soon in the child-parent life-cycle. I know a friend who has her daughter going to a daycare ever since she was 7 months old. As a mother her heart would definitely break everytime she saw her daughter off to the day-care, but at the same time she maintained that she understood that if she has to have any chance at her career, daycare was her only hope. Even after several months of putting her daughter into a Day Care I enquire from her about her anxieties about how her little angel must be managing herself at the daycare, but safety in my view has generally remained a non-issue for some reason. I have always thought, “In Australia, that must be a given!”
After this Navi Mumbai incident was reported, the hue and cry about safety of kids at Daycares in India again gained momentum. This set me to revisit my perception and do a quick check on crime incidents in Daycare Centers across countries.
A basic search on ‘Daycare Crime Incidents’ will open you up to bizarre accounts of sexual and physical assault incidents at daycares across the globe. These accounts will help you conclude that child abuse at daycares could happen anywhere, anytime and with anyone.
As parents we need to understand that our child/children could be subject to abuse in ways beyond physical assault, as was the case with the latest Navi Mumbai incident. Here I elaborate on the risks of abuse that a child may encounter during their stay at a daycare and the reasons that aggravate these risks –
Parents who put their child in a daycare mostly come to terms with the fact that their kid will not be tended to in a manner she is/may be attended to at home. The daycare people are not her parents after all. But there are certain hygiene aspects that no parent would like to compromise on. The proposed National Early ChildCare and Education (ECCE) Policy suggests a child to attendant ratio of 10:1 for children less than 3 years age. A basic mathematics on the time required to feed every child atleast twice (it should ideally be three, but lets be conservative)and changing her atleast once during the day will tell you how this ratio is absolutely impractical. Let me help you here:
Time taken to feed 1 child once – 20 minutes
Time taken to feed 10 kids twice – 20 x 2 x 10 = 400 minutes = 6 hours approximate
Time taken to change 1 child –10 minutes
(including the time taken to wash hands and sanitize each kid)
Time taken to change 10 kids – 10 x 10 = 100 minutes = rounded up to 2 hours
(atleast once during the day)
This comes to a total work time of 8 hours for the caretaker. As parents of infants please don’t forget the kind of exhaustion kids are capable of insinuating while being fed and getting changed for dirty and soiled nappies. Imagine that rest of the time, when the caretaker is attending another child, your child is being subject to simple neglect. Even if we assume that the caretaker may be capable of feeding more than 1 kid at a time, the time spent in attending to the basic childcare needs will take up most of the caretaker’s time.
A simple and logical implication of a busy day as per the mathematics above is a mentally tired care taker. The day care caretakers are not super humans. 10 toddlers to take care of in one confined room can take a psychological toll on these mortals. Please keep the child to caretaker ratio in mind when you consider a daycare for your child. The Day Care centers too should not set impractical expectations from their employees lest they would end up with fatigued and short-tempered care takers who will be more susceptible to violence against kids.
There is a section of people who still believe in spanking or scolding in loud voice as means of keeping the kids disciplined. If the Care Takers belong to such a sect then there is high chance that they may lose their mind to a naughty or a restless child and resort to abusive ways to keep them in control. It is the responsibility of the Day Care authorities to keep the caretakers well counseled to help them deal with such situations in an amicable way without creating any trouble for themselves and the parents.
Toddlers across the globe face a well known issue of seeking attention all the time. A toddler psyche is as sensitive as a flower that needs continual tending to. We as parents tend to become highly susceptible to being rude to our own kids when they throw tantrums or fail to understand adult logic. How does one ensure that the caretakers at Day Care centers are trained to have such patience and compassion towards multiple children? There is no regulation on training and development for such personnel. There does exist a course for training of instructors for pre-schools, but how much focus is laid on the emotional aspect of being a support system for toddlers (who need help in every way possible) remains a matter of deliberation.
This is the most bizarre kind of abuse which is beyond comprehension when normal human beings are tending to sensitive kids. The nature of this abuse is absolutey criminal. It is the responsibility of the Day Care authorities to conduct a background check for any criminal records before employing any individual for such a sensitive job.
Having gone through the nature of abuses that children may be subject to, it is evident that the Day Care Authorities must practice utmost vigilance while employing the right Care takers, monitoring them for any suspicious behavior and controlling their behavior via means of training and legal enforcement.
Certain practices should be made mandatory of the functioning of a Day Care Center. This may be done by imposing Licensing Requirements for the Day Care centers. The recommendations of the ECCE Policy though in the proposal stage, are still absolutely insufficient as far as the safety of the children is concerned. There are certain steps that Day Care authorities and the parents may practice on their own to keep their reputation intact.
- Ensure a healthy child to care taker ratio. As elaborated above, 10:1 is not a healthy ratio. Even in light of the fact that most Day Care centers will have a separate maid for changing nappies this ratio needs reconsideration.
- Run a compulsory Police Background Verification for everyone who is going to be working in your premises. The parents who put their child in a Day Care, must insist on checking the verification records of those who are going to be up and close with your child for a considerable duration during the day.
- The Day Care centers should ensure installation of CCTV cameras in various areas of the centers. They should either monitor the same real time or atleast review the footages every 24 hours so that any untoward instances of abuse may be reported at the earliest. For the parents, they should insist on linking the CCTV cameras to their mobile phones or laptops for direct access to what’s-happening-with-the-child.
- It is possible that the caretakers become mentally stressed during the course of their jobs. It is the responsibility of the Day Care authorities to monitor behavior patterns of their employees. If they suspect any changes in their behavior they should arrange for counseling sessions to help them de-stress and remain calm and composed on their job. The parents may insist for an interaction session with the care taker once every fortnight or monthly to make any such observations (and on a lighter note exchange notes on the plight of raising a toddler). I am not sure if this is a feasible practice, but I feel that this will inculcate a feeling of compassion among the care takers.
- The parents should pay unplanned visits to the Day Care center so that the authorities as well as the staff are always alert for fear of surprise vigilance by the parents.
For parents it is of prime importance that they pay utmost attention to what are the premise and personnel facilities that a Day Care maintains. Also keep a keen eye on your child’s behavior. Check for any changes in their behavior. Never ignore or underestimate what your child says about what happens at their child care center. Time and again I tell other parents that communication is the key to your child’s safety. Read more about it here.
In Indian context specifically, it is almost shocking that the ECCE policy mentioned earlier in this article is still in its proposal stage. There is no regulation yet that ensures that every functioning Day Care center is registered with the Women and Child Development Ministry. The viability and practicability of the recommendations in the ECCE policy are subject to debate, but implementation of this policy will atleast sieve off casual players in the market who consider a Day Care center as an easy business opportunity through minimum investment to maximize their profits.