Keeping Kids Safe

Amanda Bryans

By Amanda Bryans

Transportation is one of the most vital services Head Start and Early Head Start programs provide. The highest need families are typically the least likely to have access to transportation. They rarely own a vehicle and may have no access to public transportation, either because of location or lack of fare. Sometimes, even when public transportation is available and they have the fare, it is not a reasonable way to get to and from Head Start. Multiple young children, crowded routes, and unpredictable schedules can make it more difficult.

Transportation staff serve an incredibly important role. For many children, they are the first part of each Head Start day. Not only do they make sure the buses are safe and that routes run on time, staff also supervise and engage children on their bus. Positive interactions with transportation staff can set the course of a child's day, making them feel safe and nurtured.

Inasmuch as transportation is one of the most important things we do, it is also the most safety sensitive. You might think the biggest threat is a traffic accident; that is not the case. School buses are the safest vehicles on the road in America. There are fewer fatalities per million passenger miles traveled than for any other vehicle. Head Start's requirement for child safety restraints has made buses even safer for our young passengers.

The biggest dangers occur when children are entering and exiting the bus. This is especially risky when other vehicles are present. Head Start requires monitors on each bus to ensure that children safely board and exit the bus. They guarantee that children do not end up in the path of either the bus itself or other traffic. Head Start regulations and preventive measures encourage curbside pick-up and drop-off and asks that drivers avoiding backing up.

Another potential danger is inadvertently leaving a child unattended on a bus. This can result in mental distress, and possibly cause injury and death. Agencies typically have policies in place that require drivers and monitors to check the bus, take attendance, etc. We all make mistakes, right? However, acknowledging this fact does not absolve us. Agencies must build duplicate or back-up systems to ensure that when one person makes a mistake, it does not result in a child being left alone. Recently, we have had several cases where children were not left alone because an agency's secondary system worked.

We also urge you to require staff to call children's parents or guardians when children do not arrive at school. Over the last few years, several Head Start children or siblings died tragically after being forgotten in cars.

For strategies transportation teams can use to meet these and everyday challenges, watch Supervising Children on Head Start Buses, a new webinar from the National Center on Health. Directors, transportation managers, drivers, bus aides and monitors, and human resource managers can use the tips in the video and related handouts to manage and improve the safety of Head Start transportation services.

Explore our facilities, materials, equipment, transportation, and technology systems page for more guidance on transportation in Head Start. This page provides staff with information for everyday transportation situations and explains program policies and procedures.

Amanda Bryans is the Education and Comprehensive Services Division Director, Office of Head Start.