Sep10ThuSeptember 10, 2015
When planning a program for children and young people you may be required by law to demonstrate compliance with a set of provincial or state requirements. For school-age programs, these will include issues such as food-handling, child sign-in, and sign-out procedures, building cleanliness, child-to-staff ratios, space requirements, and requirements for the types of activities offered.
Insurance providers will require a similar standard to qualify for abuse coverage.
Beyond the legal and insurance requirements, we encourage organizations to strive for the HIGHEST standard of abuse prevention and protection.
Today I want to address a topic that we receive many questions regarding.
What’s the big deal about ratios?
Research in all areas of education has shown that low staff to child ratios are critical for learning to take place. Also, one of the ways an organization can demonstrate that they are fulfilling their duty of care to their staff and volunteers is to manage appropriately child-to-staff ratios.
Program leaders must seek out funding to ensure that they can maintain low ratios. They can also enlist the support of volunteers, including parents and other family members, senior citizens or older teens. Volunteers, like other staff members, should be screened and have experience working with children and youth, and should be trained before they begin. These volunteers should have meaningful experiences and skills to share, thereby helping to build a community of learners.
The formula for establishing ratios is based on the age of the child or young person, the age, experience, training and qualifications of the staff member or volunteer, and the level of risk of the program. The ratios that are mandated by licensed centers and the Day Nursery Act will vary across provinces and states, and also from the ratios we recommend in Plan to Protect®. If you are primarily utilizing volunteers that are not qualified and educated workers (i.e. teachers, Early Child Educators, etc.) your ratios should reflect this.
We strongly recommend you establish ratios for what is best for the children and young people, not what your organization can manage based on staffing. It is better that you not hold a program or expand your program and enrollment if it means putting the children and your workers at risk.
Remember that demonstrating due diligence is anticipating the worst-case scenario, then planning to prevent that outcome, through risk avoidance measures. Recently we reviewed a policy from a client. Their established ratios were one volunteer to every six infants between the ages of 1-12 months. This ratio is extremely high. I can’t imagine if there were a fire and the need to evacuate the building quickly with six infants in my arms. It would be impossible. This does not even take into consideration the love, care and nurture that would be difficult to provide this many young children. Our recommended ratio for this age group would be 1:3.
A best practice we learned from another client, Compass Church in Regina, Saskatchewan was a point system formula for ratios that can be used when you have mixed ages in your classes:
When age groups are combined:
1. Infants (birth to 15 months) will be 3 points.
2. Toddlers and Preschoolers (15 months to 5 years) will be 2 points.
3. Elementary aged children (6 years to Gr. 6) will be 1 point.
4. Junior High Youth (Gr. 7 to Gr. 8) will be 1.5 points.
5. Senior High Youth (Gr. 9 to Gr. 12) will be 0.5 point.
The ratio then would be two personnel (staff or volunteers) for 20 points. During off-site trips, it would be two personnel for 10 points.
Every once in a while individuals will ask why we lower the ratios for Junior High Youth. Those with experience working with Junior High Youth can quickly list off the many reasons, including but not limited:
• Activities of elevated risk
• High incidence of bullying
• High incidence of suicide
• Substance abuse
• Fluctuating hormones
• Newly founded independence
My final thought on the topic is a tip I provide in our Orientation and Refresher training on abuse prevention and protection. "If your ratios are over, it doesn't mean you should refuse to accommodate an additional child or young person or refuse to work and go on strike. However, if your ratios are more than 10% over on a daily or weekly basis, please bring this to the attention of your program leader. With continuity in staffing, your staff and volunteers will get know the children and young people in the classroom including their specific needs and disabilities, and behaviour. Based on this knowledge and experience, you may also need to ask for additional assistance."
With that all said, ratios are a big deal!