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What's Your Day Care Sick Policy?

Dawn Allcot
June 27, 2017

Should you send your kids to day care if they?re not feeling well? Knowing your day care center's sick policy can help you decide.

Your toddler wakes up more tired than usual, with a runny nose and glazed eyes. You take his temperature; it’s 100. You have an important meeting at work today. Do you keep him home or send him to day care and risk getting turned away at the door or getting a phone call to come pick him up?

Do you know your day care center’s illness policy?

Most day care centers have specific guidelines outlining when it's okay to send your kids in, and when you have to keep them home. If you're just starting your search for a day care, make sure you know these rules before you choose one. And if you already have a center that you love, re-read the rules often -- especially when a bug starts going around the playgroup.

Here are things to keep in mind.

Still not sure if you should send your child to day care? Read this article on How Sick is Too Sick for Day Care?

Care.com called on two day care center directors, Amber Terry of Almost Home Day Care in Oconomowoc, Wis., and Dawn Deserio of Olive Tree Daycare in Oceanside, N.Y., to explain how most illness policies work.

Why Do Day Care Centers Need Sick Policies?

Yes, it's a headache when you have a sick child who can't attend day care and you have to hire backup care or work from home. But imagine if there was no policy and your day care center was filled with sick kids. Think of all those lovely germs being shared with your little one.

You need a clear-cut policy that is strict, but fair. Dawn Deserio, who runs the Olive Tree Daycare in Oceanside, N.Y., says that “A written policy protects the day care and the child, so there’s no favoritism or any question of why parents are being asked to pick up a child.”

What's the Policy in My State?

Day care centers have to follow state rules on health care. But those state guidelines and illness policies vary widely. For example, Texas day cares have regulations saying they can't admit a sick child if "The illness prevents the child from participating comfortably in child-care center activities including outdoor play."

And New York day care providers must have their illness policy approved in order to receive licensing, but not every state has this rule.

Check with your state's day care licensing department to see what the regulations are -- if any.

What Is My Day Care's Sick Policy?

This should be one of the things you find out when you first tour a day care.

It differs from center to center, but most day cares with a policy in place require a child to be symptom-free for 24 hours before returning to day care. Symptoms typically covered under this rule include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash
  • Persistent cough
  • A fever over a certain temperature (typically 101.0 F)
  • Obvious contagious conditions, such as head lice or pink eye

This 24-hour policy is designed for the sick child’s protection, as well as for others in the center. “Taking that extra day to make sure a fever is gone gives the child the rest they need for their own body and health,” says Amber Terry, of Almost Home Day Care in Oconomowoc, Wis.

Some day care centers require a doctor’s note before the child can return. Terry says that if a child is showing symptoms of an illness, but the parent provides a doctor’s note saying the child is not contagious, she will work with the parents as much as she can to allow that child to come back to the center.

What If My Center Doesn't Have a Sick Policy?

“If there were no policy in place, no guidelines in a particular center, then that would worry me," says Terry. "There may be a lot of illnesses multiplying through the center.”

Talk to the day care owner about their sick policies. Are there unwritten rules that they can standardize?

Learn more about the 8 Signs of a Bad Day Care Center.

What If I Disagree With the Sick Policy?

Terry points out that if a day care center has an unrealistic policy, parents who work may face challenges. “For some kids, 99.0F is a normal body temperature,” she says. “There’s no reason to keep them home. Or if an infant has a low-grade temperature due to teething, they should be permitted to stay.”

So instead of panicking when your child wakes up with a slight fever, plan ahead so you know your day care's sick policy and have time to weigh your backup care options. Learn about the 5 backup care options you have at your disposal.

Dawn Allcot, a freelance writer, inbound marketing specialist and mom-of-two hasn’t had to refer to the sick policies for her children’s schools yet this year, and hopes writing this article isn’t “tempting fate.” Learn more about her life as the work-at-home mom of Ashley and Alex at her blog Parenting Wealth.

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