Recent CDC allegations: rebuilding trust and communication

Tips for communicating with child care providersI remember the first time I dropped my then toddler (now teenager) off at preschool. He was so proud of his new backpack and lunch box and so excited to go off to school like a big kid. Without a moment’s hesitation, he dropped my hand and dashed through the classroom door, eager to begin his new adventure. I, of course, was terrified. The thought of leaving my little one with someone else for hours at a time was overwhelming – even when that someone else was a beloved preschool teacher. How could I be sure that he would be safe, happy, and taken care of?

Leaving your child in someone else’s care requires a leap of faith. As parents of small children we painstakingly review our child care options to find the setting and provider that is the best fit for our families. Most of the time, the faith we place in our child care providers is rewarded and our children thrive.

On a rare occasion, however, a child care provider betrays a parent’s trust. Parents of children at the Fort Myer Child Development Center (CDC) were shocked to learn that two staffers allegedly abused children in their care, while others were found to have criminal records that were not uncovered in background checks. While the staffers in question have been removed from the CDC and an investigation is ongoing, the parents’ trust in the CDC has understandably been shaken.

I attended a town hall meeting for Fort Myer CDC families and it is clear families and staff want to rebuild trust. They are finding that communication is key. Parents need reliable and timely information about how their children are being cared for and what steps are being taken to ensure their safety. They also need a way to express their concerns and feel that their voices are being heard.

At Fort Myer, installation officials and CDC staff are taking steps to open the lines of communication. Town Hall meetings have been held, giving parents an open forum to air their concerns. Parents have also been encouraged to use the Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE) system to let commanders know about any issues they have with the CDC or their child care providers. The command has also used Send Word Now®, a notification system you may be familiar with in your child’s school that sends social media alerts to notify parents about CDC events via their phones or email.

When my children were in preschool I relied on a regular note in my son’s backpack to keep me informed of what was going on in his classroom, but the world has changed since then and there are many more methods we can use to communicate.

Although most parents will thankfully never face a situation like the one at the Fort Myer CDC, it’s still vital to have effective lines of communication with your child care providers. Parents need to know about last-minute schedule changes, upcoming events, and behavioral concerns that affect their kids. They also need to make sure that providers are aware of their children’s unique needs, such as a parent’s deployment or a new baby in the house. And, as seen in the Fort Myer CDC situation, parents need to know who to contact if they’re not getting the information they need from their provider or if they have concerns about the quality of care their child is receiving.

How do you keep in touch with your child’s teacher or child care provider? What method works best for you, and what hasn’t worked? 

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

3 responses to “Recent CDC allegations: rebuilding trust and communication

  1. Col Patricia Halsey-Munroe, USMC(Retired)

    Background checks are key. However, abusers may not have a record. “If you see something, tell someone.” Post a notice as to whom parents and CDC staff tell, when they see something. Parents need to drop in for visits to “inspect” and observe how the children are being treated. Also, important to know your child and be aware of changes in behavior that might indicate a problem. These are techniques parents will use for most of their child’s life, e.g. high school, college, always. I always enjoyed time in the car, because children seem to talk then. It’s tough, but CDC personnel need to feel and be safe in reporting their observations. Here as always, one must address facts, actual observed behavior.

  2. Although I’m glad that the response of DoD has been to take the situation seriously, I’m concerned that the response has been limited to an investigation of hiring practices. While this is important, treating young children harshly is hardly limited to individuals with shady pasts. Anyone who has worked in a group setting with young children can attest to the stressful nature of dealing with children’s challenging behaviors, especially in a group setting. (There is a reason that “guidance and discipline” is always the most highly requested training topic.) Whether or not a caregiver responds to challenging behavior in a positive, caring and effective way or in a harsh, harmful and punitive (and ultimately ineffective) way depends on several things, including ongoing staff training in guidance and discipline, ongoing coaching and supportive supervision of staff, active implementation of written policies and procedures related to staff response to challenging child behaviors, and a culture in which the stress of dealing with difficult behavior is openly acknowledged and where staff are committed to supporting, and if necessary reporting, one another when frustration overrides better judgment. All of these can and should be addressed by programs in the aftermath of this very public failure. The fact that repeated abusive behaviors evidently occurred within the military child care system, recognized as a model of high quality care, tells me that all of us in the early care and education field need to do a better job of understanding how and when caregivers respond to children’s behavior in harmful ways. It’s a difficult, complex aspect of caregiving/teaching that has no easy fixes. But it is our ethical responsibility as a profession to do that hard work.

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