When should "sick kids" be sent home from daycare?



Bio | Email


Posted on April 24, 2010 at 1:32 PM

Have you ever gotten the call to come pick up your sick child from daycare? A new study takes a look at whether kids are sent home too often.

There are many illnesses that can take a kid out of the action. Sometimes the choice is clear.

"A fever and a cough, a fever and throwing up, a fever and can't stay awake. Those are absolutely, 'we need to go home,'" said Jane Dobrovolny, Northwest Center for Child Development.

But often the decision can be a little muddy. Some states, Washington among them, provide guidelines that daycare centers can post. Dobrovolny says they help.

"It makes it a lot easier. If a child has thrown up a certain number of times, if they have diarrhea a certain number of times," she said.

Researchers wondered how closely states that have the guidelines follow them. They gave more than 300 childcare providers in Wisconsin some vignettes that described symptoms such as a cold, pinkeye, and scalp infection. All were so mild doctors say a child could stay at daycare.  

It turned out that providers would unnecessarily send children home 57 percent of the time.

"Wow, that's interesting. It's a judgment call. It's a difficult judgment call," said Dubrovolny.

She says though she'll always call parents, they may not need to rush to daycare to retrieve a sick child. That's in keeping with what the study found for larger daycares.

And researchers said less experienced staffers were more likely to send a mildly sick kid home.  

"After you've been doing it for a long time you just begin to see things a little bit differently," said Dubrovolny.

But after 30 years in childcare, she says it's still more art than science.

The researchers said daycares in areas with more single parents were less likely to send a child home sick.

According to the researchers the daycare centers that sent the most kids home sick were the ones with the fewest kids on "state assistance."

More information

State guidelines