Daycare and oversight of 10-15 toddlers: what level of service to expect
December 5, 2013 3:36 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I have our 2-year-old son in a daycare program that, for the most part, seems pretty good. There was even a recent parent-teacher conference, which seemed pretty great for a daycare facility. But when I picked him up today, he was chewing staples. Two-year-olds put things in their mouths, and it's hard to watch each and every kid in a room of 10-15 toddlers, so how much should we expect from this daycare, or any daycare for that matter?

This daycare generally seems like a pretty good place, with good attention to nutrition, group play, arts and song, and that sort of thing. So today when I picked up my son and he was chewing on something, I figured it was something from snacktime. But when he got in the car, he spat out about 10 staples that looked like they had some glue on them. I tasted them to see if they were sweet or if there was any reason he'd keep chewing small pieces of metal, but they just tasted like metal to me.

I got home and told my wife, and we contacted the daycare. The supervisor at the time said she'd talk to the teacher who was there to ask if they were doing anything with staples, but didn't sound too concerned about a kid chewing staples. We also called our doctor's office, because we weren't sure if there was any concern that he might have swallowed some staples, but the doctor said that as long as he was breathing fine, our kid should pass the staples without a problem. He's drinking juice quite happily. I also checked in his mouth to see if he was bleeding at all, and he looked fine.

We called the daycare back, and the supervisor said she talked to the teacher, who said that they hadn't done anything with staples that day. The supervisor said that kids tend to put small things in their mouths, so it was their job to make sure there was nothing that they could put in their mouths. The supervisor would have all the rooms vacuumed to make sure there weren't more little things around that kids would put in their mouths.

What should we expect from a daycare? I realize that kids can (and do) put all sorts of stupid things in their mouths, and it's hard to watch a dozen little running, noisy people all the time, especially if one or two are taking all your attention. But at the same time, it seems like you could probably keep staples away from toddlers. Do we chalk this up as a dumb thing our kid did, and assume that the daycare will be more diligent in cleaning and watching kids, at least for a few days/weeks? Do we look for another daycare, realizing that we might be swapping something we know for something we have no idea about? Can a daycare really be expected to keep all possibly hazardous things out of the mouths of babes?
posted by filthy light thief to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Correction: my wife, who called the daycare the first time, said the supervisor was concerned, and said that she would have to discuss this with the teacher.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:51 PM on December 5, 2013

I mean... does this suck? Of course. But how in the world could they be expected to keep all hazardous things away from toddlers? One of many very plausible scenarios is that some other kid at the daycare had an older sibling at home doing some art project and was using some staples and glue, dropped a few, and they got stuck to that toddler's pant leg without that kid's parents noticing. Later, at daycare, they'd fallen off. Even later -- maybe 20 seconds before you showed up -- your kid found them and popped them into his mouth. Absent 100% attention on your toddler -- which you do not get either at daycare or anywhere else -- even under your care -- or constant sweeping of the floor for debris -- which is obviously unreasonable, you just have to see if you believe they're doing the best they can in the circumstances.

It sounds to me like they were appropriately concerned -- your child was obviously in no immediate danger so there was no reason for the supervisor to have immediate alarm, and had obviously both looked into it with the teacher and developed a plan to address the immediate issue by the time you called them back not too much later, which seems good and responsive.

It's a scary age, because kids put anything in their mouths, and you know that, and neither you nor anyone else can keep everything away from them. But if the daycare seems generally great, I think they responded to this issue well, and I wouldn't leave over this if you're happy about them in general.
posted by brainmouse at 3:53 PM on December 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is this a classroom of only one adult? Having done some church stuff with kids a bit back, I'm not really appalled that your kid would have found something that had staples in it and gotten one of them out and put it in his mouth. But while I'm not an expert, I'm pretty sure someone should have looked his direction before it got to ten, unless they were in a pile somewhere, which raises the question of why they missed that--so, yeah, iffy, but mostly I wonder because the church activity I was helping with, we had guidelines on how many kids per adult that was welllll short of 10-15 toddlers per person. I think at age two it was like... five? Maybe that was overly restrictive, but it seems way more reasonable than 15.
posted by Sequence at 4:06 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work with 3-6 year olds, and a few younger kids, in an afterschool program. My immediate questions are:

- Were they 10 individual staples, or were they still attached, like they are in the packaging? It's possible that a teacher was reloading a stapler and missed that 10 fell to the floor. Not an excuse, but an explanation.

- Is the flooring in that room carpet or hardwood/linoleum? Staples can be a bitch to vacuum out of carpet. Actually, were they standard paper staples, or another kind? Maybe something in the room is falling apart/being picked at?

- Do other classes of older children use that room during the day? That could explain individual staples. Staples with glue on them sound like they came off a craft project, and December will typically have eleventy-billion craft projects of all sorts.

- Was the teacher/student ratio appropriate for the number of children and the age of the children?

- Is flt jr. in the habit of chewing on non-food items in school/home or was this a one-off incident?

- Were children having snack at the time, and could it have been reasonable for a teacher to assume he was chewing on snack, as you assumed?

The key to me is that he was chewing on them when you picked him up. Since there was no blood, that says to me that he started chewing on them right before you picked him up, and it's possible there was not a reasonable amount of time for teachers to notice that he was chewing on something inappropriate. If he was chewing, he would have likely been sitting quietly, and therefore less likely to draw a teacher's attention. I know that my attention is more likely to be drawn to the crying/screaming/smelly/hitting kid than one sitting calmly.

The response of the daycare seems reasonable to me, and you have otherwise been happy with them. In my opinion, it doesn't sound like you need to switch providers.
posted by booksherpa at 4:14 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Staples should not be accessible to the toddlers, period. This is a serious error. However, they seem to have reassured you that it was a momentary lapse and that steps have been taken (vacuuming) to prevent a recurrence. That's good. No need to find another daycare provider.

I don't like to second-guess experts, but I would want another opinion on whether the "... kid should pass the staples without a problem." Staples have pointy tips that can get stuck on any soft surface.
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:16 PM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

If there is only one teacher in a room with 15 toddlers, that is a problem. In fact even if your lower estimate is correct and it's just 10 toddlers, if any of those kids are under the age of 2, that is a problem. I know in my state the required staff-to-child ratio for kids that age is something like one staff member for every 8 kids. But I live in a different state than you do, so I looked it up and it seems the state of New Mexico requires daycares to have one staff member in the room for every six children if the kids are aged 6 mos. - 24 mos., and one staff member for every 10 kids if the kids are between ages 2 and 3 (source).

I will say, as a parent and a former nanny, that kids that age will sometimes just get into scary things no matter what you do, even when they are at home and being supervised by an adult. All it takes is one minute having your back turned-- just to pick up a toy or answer the phone-- for a two-year-old to pop some unnoticed thing from the floor into his or her mouth, and they tend to want to eat anything small and shiny. So this might well NOT be the result of negligence, but I'd be wary of having a kid that age in a classroom with that many other children without AT LEAST two or three well-trained adults in the room. It's literally impossible for one adult to watch 15 two-year-olds at the same time.
posted by BlueJae at 4:19 PM on December 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

JimN2TAW is right, staples should not be accessible to the toddlers, period. And "didn't sound too concerned about a kid chewing staples"? Oh no, there should be a LOT of concern. That's a big deal, not a small deal.
posted by Dansaman at 4:21 PM on December 5, 2013

is there anything you could feed this kid right away to create bulk and help any swallowed staples move swiftly through his system? i dunno, maybe oatmeal with bran and some brown sugar and cream to get him to eat a lot of it?
posted by bruce at 4:31 PM on December 5, 2013

But how in the world could they be expected to keep all hazardous things away from toddlers?

I don't think any parent would ever expect to drop their child off at daycare with this sort of assumption. I certainly would not.

It seems like it was an accident that your child was put in the situation where he could find and ingest metal objects, and it also seems like they acknowledge this is a problem.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:00 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

We owned and ran a day care for similarly aged children [2-year-olds]. You should expect that the day care providers understand that kids will put anything that can fit in their mouth and that the people you pay to keep care of your children understand this and keep them safe from such an obvious threat. This is completely unacceptable.

"Can a daycare really be expected to keep all possibly hazardous things out of the mouths of babes?"

Yes. It's what they do for a living. Put the small things in a container and place it above reach. It's quite easy to prevent choking or poison or electrical hazards.
posted by vapidave at 7:13 PM on December 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

In my short experience with daycare, I think the employees have a way of downplaying these situations to parents, in order to keep the parents from freaking out (or freaking out further than they already are). But if they are a reputable daycare, I'm sure they were pretty upset by it too.

How is the daycare overall? Are the teachers generally upbeat? Do they engage your kid? Does your kid seem like he's getting enough stimulation, and enough attention? Those are the measures of a daycare.

Yes, this situation is unacceptable, and if I were you I'd be looking hard at the room tomorrow to see that the staples had already been moved/contained. I'd expect the teacher to address me directly and explain what happened, even though they know I've already talked to the director. I think you can allow one such accident-type situation, as long as you see immediate correction (and that's not one per kid; that's one incident period, whether it's your kid or another kid). A second incident and I would pull my kid out immediately, no more chances.
posted by vignettist at 7:33 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The idea of 10-15 toddlers in a single room is what would send me running for the hills, never mind anything else. My acceptable ratio is one teacher to 5 toddlers, or 2 teachers to 8-9 toddlers. I'd be looking at a new daycare the minute the toddler numbers get to ten with two teachers......
posted by zizzle at 7:50 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used to work at a place that was part of an organization that provided more daycare than any single entity in the United States. They were of a mind that if the staff could not get every child in the room out at one time that they were understaffed. (So, depending on how mobile some kids were the number could fluctuate). Usually that turned out to be about one adult for every 4 kids. Think about it, if the building catches fire do you really want to decide who you are coming BACK for? I realize that not all organizations can aspire to that level of attention, but like Zizzle I would not entertain the idea of more than 9 toddlers with two adults, and to me that is cutting it mighty thin.
posted by jcworth at 8:37 PM on December 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

As others have asked, what is the child to adult ratio? If it is only adult for 10-15 toddlers, that is unacceptable and you need to find another daycare. My kids were in preschool at the ages of 2-3 and I would have been horrified if I found them with staples in their mouth - this is absolutely something a day care should not allow to happen.
posted by Mallenroh at 8:56 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The ratio is something that is set by law. For example, in California the legal ratio for 2-year-olds is 1:12.

In our particular daycare there is one assigned teacher for each group, and then there are 2 or 3 floaters. So there is always an extra adult around, to cover in case the main teacher is occupied with one child for some reason, or needs to go on break. Basically the kids are rarely alone in the room with just one adult.

I would love to put my kid in a daycare that has a 1:4 or 1:5 ratio, but our budget precludes that. The reality is, that option is open to very few families, at least in our area. OP, if you are otherwise happy with your daycare, don't feel guilty if the ratio seems a little high. Unless they are complete clods, I'm sure they were just as upset as you were that this happened.
posted by vignettist at 9:27 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can a daycare really be expected to keep all possibly hazardous things out of the mouths of babes?

Yes, that is a reasonable expectation IF they do not have to share their space with any other groups, and IF they are a licensed daycare playing by the state's rules.

You are paying them to keep your child safe. Once they take your money, yes, you have a right to expect basic safety and state standards.

From where I sit, a two-year-old with a mouthful of metal staples which his parent, not the caregiver, discovered is prima facie evidence they did not hold up their end of the bargain today.

Now the question for you becomes: on a gut level, do you still feel this is a safe, nurturing environment for your son? Is this a one-off or a pattern? Only you can really answer these questions. I could see staying or going, depending on how they handle a situation like this. BUT I think you probably need to pay more attention to that environment. Have a very close look at the floor. Inspect the place for yourself. Arrange to show up early one day for pick up at a time they're not expecting you. What does your gut tell you?

If you want to go, trust that you will be able to find another good childcare situation. There truly are many wonderful daycares and preschools out there.
posted by hush at 9:49 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Former childcare worker and current parent here.

In my opinion, yes that is not good. Staples should not be in the toddler room at all pretty much, or at least totally inaccessible. So my questions are: how did the staples get there? Are there other unsafe items in the room? How long had the staples been accessible by toddlers? Did any other toddlers find them? etc. etc. Basically you need to determine if this was just terrible bad luck, followed by good luck in that your kid seems okay, or Accident Waiting To Happen territory.

Also, I am in Australia, but those ratios are way out of wack here as mentioned above. I dunno how much you are paying for your childcare, but this would fall firmly into Not Cool category for me, as a former carer, AND a parent.
posted by smoke at 10:17 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I certainly understand the fear of swapping the known for the unknown, and of course toddlers put things in their mouths, but staples and no explanation? I understand that sometimes childcare space is used for other activities. I understand that sometimes the ratio isn't what one might wish. I worry that as these individually understandable situations collide, the less safe the daycare becomes.

I don't think toddlers should live in bubbles, but I do think they should be watched more closely in areas not dedicated to toddler care. Every toddler's parent has retrieved things from their kid's mouth. Because that is the correct response. To notice and to help. (Prevention seems more appropriate for daycare situations if noticing is too difficult).

Of course the supervisor was concerned (the doctor's response could have been very different). She should be shaking in her boots, as I see it. If you don't get an unsolicited and sincere apology from her and/or the teacher (separate from the initial discussion of the incident) I'd take that as her being more concerned about liability than about your comfort and your child's safety. If it's only a concern when you're calling them, they're not taking it seriously enough.

Ultimately I agree with hush that you have to go with your gut, but to answer your question, yes, a daycare can be expected to keep children safe.

I'm sorry; this sounds stressful. Hope your little guy stays well... and curious.
posted by whoiam at 10:38 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

filthy light thief: "Can a daycare really be expected to keep all possibly hazardous things out of the mouths of babes?"

ABSOLUTELY. This is one of the main jobs - providing "care".

BlueJae: "so I looked it up and it seems the state of New Mexico requires daycares to have one staff member in the room for every six children if the kids are aged 6 mos. - 24 mos., and one staff member for every 10 kids if the kids are between ages 2 and 3 (source). "

I was going to comment on this, and I'll add that I would assume (since they at least have a ratio) that they have a license, which means there are probably inspections. We ran into problems with our first child at the daycare she was initially at when I found her playing with a bottle of cleaner when I went to pick her up one day. The cabinet under the sink was wide open and she had went exploring, as little kids do. While calling the local permitting agency about finding a new daycare, we found out that they particular one had not been inspected in 2 years because a case worker had gone on disability but not transferred the case. Also they had multiple violations during their last inspection! Not passing judgement on the agency as that's a whole nother issue, but regardless we were able to make specific requests to the agency about prospective schools as to their license standing.

JimN2TAW: "I don't like to second-guess experts, but I would want another opinion on whether the "... kid should pass the staples without a problem." Staples have pointy tips that can get stuck on any soft surface."

I agree with this. And if there is any medical costs involved I'd expect the daycare to cover it. They've certainly got insurance (I hope).
posted by Big_B at 9:08 AM on December 6, 2013

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