Cleanliness is the key to keeping daycare healthy.
More parents are leaving their children in day care than ever before:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 65% of women with children
under the age of six were part of the labor force in 1998, compared with only
44% in 1975. And more women working means more kids in day care. At least 5.8
million children under age five are in out-of-home child-care facilities,
according to the Urban Institute's 1990 National Child Care Survey.
It's no surprise, then, that as the number of kids in day care rises, so
does the number of illnesses among those children. However, despite the fact
that many studies have shown a link between day care and a greater tendency
toward illness in early life, doctors say the bigger picture is not yet clear.
"There is little question that day care before the age of two predisposes
children to illnesses of the upper and lower respiratory tract," says Juan
Celedon, MD, an instructor in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical
School and a research fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "But we don't
yet know the long-term impact of illnesses in early childhood, and that's a
very important question. It's possible that some of the infections may be
[harmful] and some may be protective, but that is largely unknown."
Until the research can demonstrate which of these illnesses are detrimental,
there are basic health guidelines that all day-care facilities should be
following to protect young children -- whose immune systems are still
developing -- from dangerous illnesses.
Any child-care facility should ask to see your child's immunization records,
says Ralph Cordell, PhD, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. Likewise, you should make sure that all people at the day care
have been properly immunized. If your child is at a child-care home (located at
the provider's residence and usually with 12 or fewer kids), check up not only
on the provider but also on anyone else living in the house, asking to view the
The child-care center should also provide you with its policy, in writing,
on keeping sick kids out of day care, says Cordell. Children with diarrhea or
respiratory infections should not be around other kids. The American Academy of
Pediatrics recommends keeping children who have fevers out of day care. (The
National Health and Safety Performance Standards have a looser recommendation:
Children with fever should only be kept out if they also show some other sign
of illness.) Find a provider whose policy you can agree with and who takes the
kids' health seriously enough to write it down, says Cordell.
It may also be worthwhile to talk to your child's caretaker about their
enforcement of these policies. A March 1999 Archives of Pediatrics and
Adolescent Medicine study reported that children in child-care homes were more
likely to be sick than those in child-care centers. Researchers attributed this
in large part to the fact that while both types of day care had similar
exclusion policies, providers in child-care homes were more lenient in
accepting mildly ill children at the beginning of the day.