Parents Unprepared for Child Care Emergencies

Do you know what you'd do if a natural disaster like a hurricane or flood hit your baby's child care center? Here's what to ask your day care now to stay informed.

Parents Unprepared for Child Care Emergencies

You know your little one will be fed and cleaned when you drop them off at a trusted child care center—but do you know how they'll be cared for in the event of an emergency?

A study released by the University of Michigan Health System found many parents don't know how emergencies are dealt with at their children's care centers. The nationally representative survey had some interesting results: While a whopping 39 percent of parents surveyed indicated that their child care center of choice had been affected recently by an emergency situation, many were not fully aware of how their center typically handles emergencies.

"In our polls we found some areas where parents could be better informed about their child care or preschool's emergency plans," says Dr. Andrew Hashikawa, an emergency physician at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and the survey's lead researcher. "Our poll findings don't necessarily suggest that child cares or preschools are underprepared for disasters, but they do raise serious questions as to the preparedness and level of understanding of parents about disaster plans."

It's worth noting that "emergencies" aren't just newsworthy natural disasters. Power outages, fires, chemical spills, gas leaks, violence and weather-related incidents (like storms, tornadoes and hurricanes) are all examples of emergencies your child care center could face.

"Our poll raises serious questions about how informed parents are about the plans preschools and child care centers have in place to respond to emergencies. Many centers may be well prepared to handle these types of events, but emergency plans are much less likely to work if parents don't know about them," Hashikawa adds.

The good news? There are specific questions you can ask your child care center in order to stay on top of things:

'Is your emergency plan online?'

According to the University of Michigan's findings, only 37 percent of parents surveyed were aware of the child care center's online breakdown of its emergency plan. Check up on this so you'll know where to find important information quickly in the event you may need it.

'How will you contact me if there is an emergency?'

Only 65 percent of the parents sampled understood the protocol for communicating with parents in an emergency situation. Be sure to check on this—it's important to know whether you'll be called, texted or emailed if the center needs to get in touch with you immediately.

'Do you confirm the identity of the adult who would pick up my child in an emergency situation?'

Making sure your child care center sends your kids home with you (or an approved adult) on a regular basis is a no-brainer. But what happens when there's an emergency? It's worth asking how they'll handle pickup when there's a chaotic situation brewing.

'Do you have enough vehicles and/or car seats to transport children in the event of an emergency?'

This might not be the most obvious question to ask, but it's definitely important that you ensure the staff can get your child out of harm's way if there's an emergency that requires it. You should also ask about evacuation routes.

'What are the most likely emergency events in this area?'

Hashikawa also suggests signing up for emergency text alerts so you can be aware of any local issues that come up in real time.

'Do you have emergency supplies available?'

This is especially important for anyone who has an infant or a child with health issues. Make sure your child care center is equipped with formula, diapers and any medications your child might in case of an emergency.