(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
During the past month, several area child care providers say they've had to use extra caution when allowing children to spend time outside. Summertime can pose extra safety risks to children -- and especially susceptible to heat illnesses are those under age 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"For us, it's almost like it's winter," said Julie Albertson, director of Community Day School and a consultant for its sister school, Christian School for the Young Years, both in Cape Girardeau. "We have been spending a lot more time inside when it's been dangerously hot."
In recent weeks, students at both schools spent a short time outside in the early mornings on the hottest days, and were allowed out in 10-minute increments with water given before and after, she said. Gross motor skill development of students was still a focus for teachers, although it's been done in classrooms through games and other activities instead.
Albertson said the centers, as state-licensed facilities, follow all regulations pertaining to safety during hot weather and staff additionally use a heat index chart, known as Child Care Weather Watch, when making decisions about how long children can spend outside in extreme temperatures.
Also keeping the kids inside recently was the University School for Young Children, assistant director Kacie Brumbaugh said. The center frequently used its "gross motor room" for exercise during the heat wave and had a few extra "water days" in which children play in water tables, hoses and sprinklers at earlier times of day.
Jessica Belanger, director of preschool programs at Centenary United Methodist Church, which has a fall-to-spring schedule, said even though the school is not open in summer that preparing staff for dealing with hot weather appropriately is still of importance because the temperature often goes above the 90-degree mark when sessions resume in August.
"I definitely have parents asking how long we are outside. They don't want their child out morning, noon and night. I wouldn't either," she said.
The school also uses its gym frequently during hot weather and has water play days, provides constant access to water and normally won't even take children outside if the heat index reaches the high 90s.
Centenary is exempt from state regulations that apply to many day care centers since it is under the exclusive control of a religious organization, but Belanger said the center follows safety guidelines as if it were regulated.
"We are very careful," she said. "You wonder how bad things can happen, but they do."
Licensed day care centers in Missouri are required to follow several regulations that apply to health and safety issues that can arise during summer care. The state does not, however, regulate the same safety in small-setting child care offered in homes.
Janice Jones now leads the United Way of Southeast Missouri's Success by 6 Leadership Team, a community group focused on improving early childhood education experiences and access. She is also the former executive director of Educare, a state-funded initiative that provides resources, technical assistance and training opportunities to child care providers and focuses specifically on home providers.
Jones said safety can sometimes become an issue more often in the home day cares when one or two people are providing supervision for multiple child.
Numerous reports in recent years show child care providers with too many children to supervise aren't able to be as attentive to individual children's needs -- and that can be a setup for injury or tragedy, either through an accident or negligence by the caregiver.
Having too many kids in one house is happening more than it should, Jones said, even though state law limits care to up to four children in unlicensed day care. It happens sometimes that one provider has eight, nine or more children to supervise on their own -- they are able to get around the law because they are related to the additional children.
"It's too bad, really," Jones said, "because there are some wonderful home care in our area. People like that for their kids, especially for younger ones."
1912 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO
735 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO
2089 Bessie St., Cape Girardeau, MO
300 N. Ellis St., Cape Girardeau, MO