Be Well: Creating an Illness Policy

Put together a clearly defined illness policy so families know when children are too sick for child care

As anyone who spends a significant amount of time around small children knows, germs and viruses are not just a possibility – they are a guarantee. Experienced child care providers are well aware of the importance of hand-washing, cleaning, and disinfecting, but they also understand that illness will spread through their care group regardless of preventative measures.

When you’re working, playing, and learning in close quarters, contagious illnesses spread quickly and impact everyone’s comfort, enjoyment, and productivity. Protect your staff, the children in your care, and their families by creating and distributing a well-defined illness policy that outlines your expectations around which symptoms indicate that a child is sick enough to need to stay at home.

A healthy environment

Families and caregivers need to be on the same page when it comes to protecting children, and the easiest way to ensure that outcome involves creating clear written guidelines that include signs of sickness that necessitate keeping a child at home versus sending them to child care. Ideally, your illness policy will be a part of the parent handbook.

When deciding on an illness policy, check your state’s child care licensing rules to see if any state guidelines exist. From there, review the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and decide if you would like to add to or alter any of those suggestions in your own illness policy.

According to the AAP, the majority of minor illnesses don’t require children to stay home from child care. Children should be excluded from care only if their symptoms make it difficult for them to participate in normal activities, if the sick child needs more care than the provider can handle while caring for others, or if they put other children at risk due to their illness.

If any of the following conditions exist, you may want to recommend that a child be kept at home:

  • Symptoms that indicate severe illness, such as fever, irritability, trouble breathing, inconsolable crying, or lethargy
  • Diarrhea or stools with signs of blood or mucus
  • Vomiting two or more times in the past 24 hours, unless a doctor feels that the issue isn’t related to a contagious illness
  • Mouth sores and drooling, until a physician verifies that the condition is not infectious
  • Fever, rash, or a change in behavior, until a doctor determines the symptoms are not contagious

Illnesses such as the common cold, diarrhea (if contained in a diaper and free of blood or mucus), or pink eye without fever or behavioral change are not necessarily worthy of excluding a child from care. However, your care center’s illness policy should be designed based on the comfort and safety of those affected.

The following are different ways infectious diseases can be spread:

  • Physical contact
  • Respiratory transmission
  • Fecal-oral transmission
  • Blood transmission

Having strict policies on cleanliness, hygiene, and attendance when a child is sick is one of many ways to protect the children and families in your care. Create a written illness policy to help prevent the spread of contagious illnesses and to ensure that children get the rest and attention that they need to get well soon.

The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.

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