School shootings and child abductions get major news coverage and send parents and childcare providers scrambling to ensure their children are safe. While the likelihood of a childcare center being the target of an active shooter is relatively slim, it’s easy to imagine a facility dealing with a contentious custody dispute between two parents.
In fact, the National Center for Abused and Exploited Children estimates 203,000 children are kidnapped every year by family members. Seven percent of those children are taken from their school or childcare center. Most of those children are returned safe and sound to their legal guardians, but these are scary situations that providers need to plan for.
Legal Implications of an Unsecured Childcare Center
Childcare providers are legally responsible for the children in their care. If a child is abducted from a childcare center, even if it is by a guardian or parent, it’s very likely legal action will be taken. Even if the provider is eventually found to not be at fault, the costs of defense and costs to the provider’s reputation will be significant.
The best defense in an abduction case is demonstrating that all possible precautions were taken to protect a child’s well being. The next section of this article highlights possible security options for childcare centers of all sizes.
3 Common Ways of Securing a Childcare Facility
Childcare licensing rules vary from state to state and many do not include any specific security requirements. The following sections are simply security options for childcare providers to consider. Providers should always check with local licensing bodies before implementing new policies and procedures.
Safest Option: Keypad or Computer Security Systems
A keypad system in which parents can enter a code or use their fingerprint to gain access is becoming increasingly popular. Many of these systems track attendance and can assist with tuition billing. They can even be used for staff to clock in and out.
- Costs: These systems are relatively expensive. They can cost thousands of dollars when including installation costs.
- Setup & Maintenance: These computer systems can require significant time for set-up. Accounts will need to be created for families and staff members. Detailed policies and procedures as well as staff training will need to be created. These systems also require regular software and hardware updates.
- Additional Considerations: Keypad security systems are an excellent option for large childcare centers with the means to afford it. Each family or person needs to have a unique code if the fingerprint system is not used. If someone is legally prohibited from picking up a child, their code or fingerprint can be removed from the system and they simply won’t be able to get past the front door. The cost of this type of system, however, makes it impractical for most in-home daycares. Additionally, many of these systems require an entryway so the computer is not exposed to weather elements.
Locked Door Security System
A childcare center can be secured by simply locking all doors from the outside and requiring staff to buzz parents into the center. There are also wi-fi enabled locks, which might be useful for staff entry.
- Costs: Door locks that can be remotely unlocked on command can be purchased for under $200 (not including installation costs). A search for “buzz-in door locks” or “door access control kits” will list many different options.
- Setup & Maintenance: After the initial installation, this type of system requires little additional set-up or maintenance.
- Additional Considerations: This type of system requires the building to be set up so employees can see who is trying to buzz in. If a window is not located near the front door, a peephole or camera may need to be installed.
- Large childcare centers may struggle with this security option because it requires staff members to monitor and buzz families in at all times. Staff members must be able to verify the identity of everyone buzzing at the door; in a large center with hundreds of families this may not be feasible.
- For smaller childcare providers, on the other hand, this type of system could be very beneficial. It provides security at a much more reasonable cost. In-home providers typically would have an easier time identifying everyone trying to buzz into their home.
Door Alarm or Chime Security System
Other centers may leave the front door unlocked but have a buzzer or doorbell that rings every time someone enters. While alerting staff to the fact that someone has entered the building, these systems do little to keep intruders or hostile parents from gaining access.
- Costs: These chimes or buzzers can usually be purchased for under $50.
- Setup & Maintenance: This system requires little in terms of set up or maintenance.
- Additional Considerations: An alarm or chime provides virtually no security and should not be relied on in heavy traffic environments. Large childcare centers should be using either a keypad or remote lock. At busy times it is possible no one will notice the doorbell and someone could slip in unnoticed. If an in-home provider cannot afford anything else, this system is better than nothing, but it really doesn’t provide much more than an early warning.
Securing Other Entrances and Outdoor Spaces
Most childcare facilities have multiple forms of entry and egress. Doors leading to the playground or a back yard are common at centers large and small. These doors should be locked from the outside and only accessible with a key or code that staff members have access to. In order to comply with fire codes, however, doors should never be locked from the inside. Fire code does not require access from the outside, only that people inside the building are able to get out. All windows need locks and should stay locked.
In large centers, playgrounds should be fenced and locked to keep kids in and intruders out. Staff should have keys and lanyards to make it easy for them to keep their keys on their person.
Small in-home providers should have one main door for parents to use. Families should not be entering and exiting through any other doors of the house.
Other Security Considerations
- Deliveries: Doors should not be propped open to accommodate deliveries.
- Tours and guests: Tours and guests should be accompanied at all times.
- Unexpected visitors: Staff members should not open doors if an unexpected visitor knocks. An administrator should be notified to handle this situation.
Checklist For Assessing a Childcare Center’s Security
The following questions can help a provider or parent assess the security at their childcare center:
- Who has access to the center? Anyone? Students? Volunteers? Just parents/guardians?
- How do parents/guardians gain access to the center/home?
- How are unauthorized people prevented from entering the facility?
- Is the front door locked or secured in some way?
- Are other doors throughout the facility locked from the outside?
- Are windows secured?
- Are doors ever propped open or left unlocked?
- What are the emergency policies and procedures?
- How are children checked in and out?
- Have there ever been any incidents where an unauthorized person gained access to the facility? What happened?