First and foremost, I am not a medical professional. However, during my time as an educator in the classroom and as an administrator of a childcare center, they were countless instances where my educators and I needed to be aware of the allergies that existed within a classroom. There were children with simple allergies and those with very complex ones. It is important to know the difference. For example, a child with an airborne allergy to peanuts can be far more severe and potentially complicated, than, perhaps a child that would need to consume a significant amount of an allergen to have an allergic reaction. However, both need to be treated with care and caution.
Research shows the rate of allergies and food sensitivities among young children has increased and continues to increase.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) & Prevention reports that the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of peanut or tree nut allergy appears to have more than tripled in U.S. children.”
These astounding increases are a definite cause for concern and require the attention and support of educators and educational facilities.
The Center for Disease Control also stated that food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern that affect an estimated 8% of children in the United States. That’s 1 in 13 children or about 2 students per classroom. A food allergy occurs when the body has a specific and reproducible immune response to certain foods.
When working in a childcare center, it is possible that difficulties may exist relating to managing allergies. Things such as keeping all staff members informed, the importance of making this information available, and increasing the ease that exists surrounding this information in an effort to keep everyone safe!
The old way of allergy management
Traditionally, medical and allergy-based information was completed and submitted in paper form, managed by the main office, and a corresponding spreadsheet was created to reflect all children in the center with their specific allergies and the expected treatment and/or action in the event that a child had an issue. This spreadsheet was created and mainly managed by the main office and the main office also kept all of the med forms in a paper binder in the office; usually, alphabetized by the child’s last name. Furthermore, the main office kept all related medications in a bin in the office.
In an emergency, an educator would need to reference the paper spreadsheet to identify the child’s potential allergen, then, the main office would be contacted to evaluate and administer proper allergy-related medication (as well as calling 911 and the parent): such as an anti-histamine, epi-pen, or other, as directed by the paperwork provided by the parent. While the documentation was organized, the system was in place, and the protocol worked properly, the information was not immediately and readily available. And, if a sub were to be in the room, then a different individual from the team would need to be responsible for seeing this emergency process through.
The new and improved methods of allergy management
By utilizing childcare management software, allergy management is taken to a whole new level! All of the information is located in one convenient location and viewable by all individuals within the center. This approach makes the same information that is available at the front office also available on each device in each classroom within the facility. This is just one of the ways that a child care management app can help improve processes, protocol, and safety within your childcare facility. Necessary information becomes more accessible, easier to utilize and implement.
Other tips and tricks for managing classroom allergies
As a former educator and administrator, I always encouraged parents of children that had allergies to provide specific snacks to be kept on-site for special occasions, such as birthday or holiday celebrations.
In the years that the number of children with allergies was very high, the center provided allergy-free snack options (gluten-free, vegan, no nuts, no eggs, no dairy); such as graham crackers, fruit, and vegetables.
Other years, for birthday celebrations, we provided families with a limited list of acceptable options and required all families to provide allergy-free snacks in order to safely celebrate at school.
Pulling it all together
To determine the best option for your educational facility, you will need to determine how widespread allergies exist among your children.
5 questions to Consider
- What is your program’s protocol for tracking children’s allergy information?
- What is your program’s procedure for dealing with allergies?
- What is the process for parents to communicate allergies with your program?
- What reporting efforts does your program follow to communicate about these types of incidences?
- How does your program handle birthdays and special celebrations related to children with allergies?
Once you identify your center’s preferences and protocols, be certain to provide clear instructions and expectations to the families, so that everyone may learn and celebrate safely! And, of course, if you have a family that suspects their child has an allergy or food sensitivity, please encourage them to reach out to their pediatrician or preferred medical professional.
If you need some additional support in creating your plan, check out this 5-point prevention resource.