Active Supervision FAQs

Review the questions and answers below to find information related to active supervision in early care and education settings. Note: These resources are under review.


Bathroom & Supervision

  1. What is the regulation regarding children going to the bathroom out of sight of adults—behind closed doors? Or down a hallway?
  2. The Head Start Program Performance Standards require that staff supervise children at all times (1304.52 i(1)(iii)). Many programs have toilet areas with low walls or stalls with open doors to ensure an adult can still supervise while children are using the bathroom.

  3. What strategies can be used when children are playing outside and one child wants to use the restroom? Would an adequate strategy be taking the child, plus a group of children to the restroom so that the adult-to-child ratio is covered?
  4. Programs adopt a variety of strategies to accommodate children who need to go to the bathroom when the group is outside or away from the center. First and foremost, programs can plan regular toileting times to prevent as many incidental trips as possible. For example, children would have the chance to use the bathroom after lunch and before going outside, or before leaving for a field trip. Also, many programs assign additional staff such as family workers or center directors to help with taking children to the bathroom during outdoor time. Finally, often when one child needs to go, several more also ask. Teachers can maintain group size accordingly (e.g., one group goes with one teacher to the bathroom, while the remainder stay outside with the teacher assistant).

Child Behavior

  1. What are some suggestions in regards to being alone and in ratio, and dealing with a child who is exhibiting challenging behavior?
  2. The first priority is to keep everyone safe. The disabilities coordinator and mental health consultant can provide classroom management strategies to prevent challenging behavior. These strategies can also aid in building children’s social and emotional skills. Programs should always have an additional staff member at a site where a teacher is working alone even if the group is "in ratio." A family worker, center director, or other manager can assist in the event of an emergency.

  3. How do educators adapt activities to anticipate potential injuries when a child may need closer supervision? What resources does the Office of Head Start (OHS) have for dealing with a classroom that has several children with challenging behaviors?
  4. Resources that programs should use include the services of their mental health consultant. Programs can also use professional development materials such as those developed through the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning to help prevent challenging behavior and help children with self-regulation and social and emotional skills.

  5. We are concerned with children hitting teachers, running away and climbing on furniture. While these behaviors are being addressed it takes a very long time to complete the evaluations. What should be the process of dealing with these behaviors during the evaluation process?
  6. It is unclear what is meant here by "evaluations." Many programs use observation-based assessment systems that include observations collected over time. If a program was using a direct assessment instrument and the classroom was out of control, for example, it would be necessary to reconsider the approach. Perhaps, a program would need to assign extra staff to assist during the time it takes to complete the evaluations. Another approach would be to ask the mental health consultant to observe and make classroom management recommendations.

  7. What appropriate strategy should a program use if a parent is not agreeable to seeking further evaluation for a child with challenging behaviors?
  8. All parents want their children to do well. It can be very hard when something is "wrong."  Sometimes programs are so anxious to convince parents that something must be done, that they pile on "evidence" of the child's problems.

    • One strategy for staff is to listen to parents before talking. Ask parents how things are going, what their child's strengths and interests are, and what they want for their child.  Ask if they have any worries. 
    • Talk about your own observations of the child's strengths and what your worries are.  Show that you really know the child—not just the problems. If the parent says they don't have any concerns, acknowledge that children are different in different environments, but that you need some help figuring out what to do in the classroom. All of this may take some time and take place over more than one meeting.
    • If the parent continues to refuse an evaluation, see if they would accept an observation conducted by the mental health consultant. This observation would help to identify signs, preventive strategies, and ways to effectively intervene. A positive behavior support strategy can help by ensuring the child has frequent successes. If the parent refuses this, ask the education and disabilities coordinators to conduct observations of your classroom in general. They can also make recommendations using the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning resources.

Adult-to-Child Ratio

  1. What are the guidelines for the adult-to-child ratio for preschool age? Does it change if children are sleeping?
  2. The Head Start Program Performance Standards (1306.32 a (1) – (12)) provide the adult-to-child ratios allowable in Head Start. For a class of predominantly 4 year olds, the maximum group size is 20.

  3. What can a teacher do if he or she is in ratio, but because there are several children who are closer to toddler age it is difficult to do effective supervision?
  4. You may need to consider restructuring your daily routine and activities to ensure that you are able to provide appropriate supervision. Some programs employ "floater" staff who may move between classrooms to help when children go outside. The floater staff may also visit classrooms that have more children closer to 3 years old than 4. Such classrooms would be limited to a group size of no more than 17. Zone supervision may also be a helpful strategy.

  5. What do we do if we do not have enough staff and so are out of ratio? How can we adequately supervise all children?
  6. That is a program management concern. A program would be at risk of losing its state child care license. That would also be something Head Start would consider a serious issue. We expect that programs use their management teams to plan for contingencies to ensure that substitutes or additional staff are available. Many programs might ask a family services worker to spend the day with the classroom. Programs may provide basic education training to additional staff so that they can fill in as assistant teachers or help to cover in a classroom. The key is prevention—to avoid situations where programs are out of ratio.

  7. What is the ratio requirement for active supervision? Is it necessary to have extra staff?
  8. No, extra staff are not needed. As long as programs do not exceed the allowable group sizes and ratios prescribed in the Head Start Program Performance Standards and employ an intentional plan of active supervision they will find this is actually less burdensome.

  9. Why do programs always have to have two paid staff with children?
  10. The requirement for two paid staff ensures that there are trained adults available to meet both the ongoing teaching and learning needs of children. This requirement also makes certain that there are trained adults present who can respond appropriately in unplanned events such as a child becoming ill, or having a toileting accident or an emergency.

  11. Which is the safer choice to make: going to activities outside the classroom in large groups or in small groups?
  12. As long as the group is within ratio and has a plan for supervision based on the area and needs of the children, either smaller groups or larger groups can be appropriate.

Deficiency & Reporting

  1. Is there a way to track injury report data?
  2. Many programs use an electronic system for recording injuries. Having such a system allows a program to periodically analyze information to determine if there are patterns or trends that suggest safety or training issues.

  3. At what point would lack of implementing an active supervision policy and procedures lead to either a non-compliance or deficiency?
  4. Active supervision is a recommended practice for ensuring child safety. The Head Start Program Performance Standards require that facilities and practices meet health and safety standards and that children be supervised at all times. Any failure to meet those specific requirements could lead to a noncompliance or deficiency but much more seriously an injury to a child.

  5. What are the consequences of self-reporting for programs?
  6. While we understand that it may be difficult for programs to report an incident that may lead to consequences, the health and safety of children are paramount. When programs self-report, it lessens the chance that a deficiency will be imposed as compared to if OHS finds out through the media or a community complaint.

  7. Does OHS state anywhere that a case of an unattended child must be reported to the Regional Office?
  8. The Information Memorandum on Supervisions and Transitions (ACF-IM-15-05) states that "programs should report incidents of unsupervised children to the Regional Office of Head Start within three days of the incident, including, where applicable, any reports made or information shared with child welfare agencies, state licensing bodies, and parents. Regional Offices will provide technical assistance, as appropriate."

Door Alarms

  1. How should the doors be supervised when there are large deliveries made to the center?
  2. Many programs schedule deliveries to occur before or after the program day. If a delivery must occur while children are in the center, programs would need to ensure the health and safety of children during the time the delivery was being made. This could be done by asking teachers to keep children in their classrooms and assigning one or more program staff to accompany the delivery person and ensure no unauthorized use of the open door.

  3. If a classroom has more than one door, does every door require a secondary alarm?
  4. There is no Head Start requirement that doors have an alarm to alert someone if the door is open. Many programs have implemented alarms or used alarms because they feel this adds a level of protection of ensuring that children are not exiting without an adult knowing. Other programs have other systems that do not include an alarm, such as thinking about where staff are positioned while children are in a room and making sure that it is very explicit who is responsible for making sure that no child exits on their own.

    The important thing is to be mindful about: what the issues are; what kinds of safety strategies need to be in place; and, what is the best way to put those strategies in place. It is a fire safety protection for classrooms to have two exits. It is up to the program to figure out whether or not to have door alarms or to have another strategy for making sure that children do not leave without an approved guardian.

  5. Should the roof door be locked if it is not used by children at all?
  6. Whether or not a door should be locked from the inside depends largely on local licensing and fire codes.

  7. Are outside doors locked during the day while the children are present?
  8. Most programs keep doors externally locked so that people cannot enter a program undetected during the day while children are there. Programs use cameras or use a window to view the person who wants to be buzzed in. Some programs use code systems so that parents are given the code and are able to come in, while others would need to provide identification to be let in the building. However, doors must be unlocked from the inside in the event of emergencies, so that children and staff are able to exit.

Emergency Preparedness

  1. Do Head Start locations have "Lock Down" and "Shelter in Place" procedures that are practiced like fire drills?
  2. Head Start programs should refer to the recently revised Head Start Emergency Preparedness Manual to determine the plans and procedures needed in their communities. Most Head Start programs have implemented lock down and shelter in place procedures during community emergencies.

  3. What if there is an emergency and we do not have time to transition or put zoning into place?
  4. This is where planning is critical. Part of the planning is to plan for sudden and unexpected emergencies. Again, Head Start programs should refer to the recently revised Head Start Emergency Preparedness Manual so that every staff person can know their role in such an event.

Suspension from Head Start

  1. Do you believe in suspending a child in an early childhood setting for continuing to bite children while being supervised closely by a caregiver?
  2. This is a question that comes up a lot with regard to safety. It is often used as a justification for either suspending or expelling a child from Head Start—where a program tells a parent that a child is "not ready for group care" and can no longer attend the program. OHS has also seen cases where children's time in the program is reduced. OHS wants to say very strongly that this is not appropriate. It is not okay to suspend, expel, or reduce the time of a child. Any child who is having behavior that is so extreme that staff cannot keep the child or the other children safe should obtain a multi-disciplinary evaluation. The child can be referred to either the Part B or Part C agency under the Individuals with Disability Education Act to get an evaluation and to make sure that the appropriate supports are in place to help ensure that child's safety and the safety of other children in the room.

  3. In Head Start, if a parent is not helping a child with the process of potty training after attending for six months can the child be put back on the waiting list until he or she is ready?
  4. Absolutely not. Head Start programs all over the country have helped tens of thousands of preschool age children become potty trained. Most programs succeed by ensuring the child visits the bathroom on a regular schedule. If problems persist, the program should help the parent get the child to the pediatrician to ensure there is no medical cause. Assuming there is not, the program must continue working with the child and the parent.

Family Child Care Settings

  1. As a home provider, what is the ratio of children to staff when there is only one caregiver?
  2. Head Start Program Performance Standard 1306.20 Program staffing (g) states "Grantee and delegate agencies offering the family child care program option must ensure that in each family child care home where Head Start children are enrolled, the group size does not exceed the limits specified in this paragraph. Whenever present, not at school or with another care provider, the family child care provider's own children under the age of six years must be included in the count. (1) When there is one family child care provider, the maximum group size is six children and no more than two of the six may be under two years of age. When there is a provider and an assistant, the maximum group size is twelve children with no more than four of the twelve children under two years of age. (2) One family child care provider may care for up to four infants and toddlers, with no more than two of the four children under the age of 18 months. (3) Additional assistance or smaller group size may be necessary when serving children with special needs who require additional care."

General Supervision

  1. What is the balance between staff talking to each other and engaging with children?
  2. Communicating with other adults provides mutual support, stress relief and fun. On the other hand, staff should never be talking over children or talking disrespectfully about children. When they speak to each other, staff can model the kind of communication we want children to be developing. The majority of conversations must be with children and include interesting ideas, topics, and vocabulary, as well as mutual turn taking.

  3. Is it necessary to have children supervised by the program's paid staff during therapy or intervention sessions?
  4. As much as possible, special education and related services, such as occupational and speech and language therapy, should be provided in the classroom. It has been shown that children can make equal or greater progress on their goals when they receive services in their regular setting rather than being "pulled out." If for some reason a child must be pulled out, there must be a plan for the child’s transition out of and back into their classroom. During the time a child is receiving services through an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) or an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the provider of the service is responsible for the child.

  5. We share a building with another program. How can we educate parents on safety and address its importance?
  6. The first thing that we need to do as Head Start staff is to ask parents before enrollment: What do they know about their child? What works with their child? What are the child's interests? Do they have concerns about the child? What are their health and safety practices?

    On the program side, we need to help parents understand child development. This includes helping them to understand what young children are like at infancy, 2, 3, and 4 years old in a way that helps them plan and keep their children safe. Parents care about the health and well-being of their children. We have to operate from that basic understanding and really start to talk with parents.

Child Leaving with Unapproved Guardian

  1. How do you handle a situation when a parent calls and gives you verbal authorization to release their child to someone who is not on the child information sheet? This could be in an emergency situation or a non-emergency situation.
  2. Most programs would not accept a phoned-in authorization for a new pick up person.

  3. What do you do if a person grabbed a child from your care without signing the child out or showing their ID?
  4. If an adult takes a child without showing identification that they are approved to pick up the child, the appropriate response is to call 911.

  5. Can we stop a parent from coming to pick up their child, if the parents are arguing and one parent has asked that we take the other parent off the pick-up list?
  6. Unless there is a legal document barring a parent from taking custody of a child, you cannot prevent the parent from taking the child.

  7. What if a person is listed but is clearly under the influence of drugs or alcohol, can he or she pick up their child?
  8. If you believe a child may be placed at risk, you can try to delay the child from being picked up while notifying the police. If an intoxicated person takes a child in a vehicle, you should call the police.

Outdoor Supervision

  1. When we are in our "gym," we do structured play but there are times when children just need to run. Do you have any thoughts on how to maximize safety in a large open space?
  2. I Am Moving, I Am Learning and Little Voices for Healthy Choices are two approaches to help increase physical activity inside and outside of the classroom. A part of these approaches is to talk with children about how to control their body language and body movement without colliding into others. For example, "Gallop around the room without getting into anyone else's space." This helps children realize they can be physically active and not cause a safety hazard. Kids can get an incredible amount of activity in a pretty small space. Having children hop on one foot without bumping into each other will tire them out quickly.

    Gone are the days where all the children are on their feet and moving and all the teachers are sitting on a bench or chairs to one side. We want to see adults up, actively engaging with children, calling them by name, talking to them, supporting what they are doing, keeping children safe, but also observing children's development and using that information to continue to plan.

  3. If you and another staff member are outside on the playground and a child gets hurt and needs to go in the building is it OK to leave one adult outside with the rest of the class? Class size is 20.
  4. This is absolutely going to happen. It could be an injury, or a child may need to go to the bathroom, or a child may get really cold and need to go inside to warm up. However, no, it is not okay to leave one staff person alone with 20 children.

    Head Start is fortunate in that we have auxiliary staff at our centers (e.g., center directors, cooks, family service workers, bus drivers, bus monitors, etc.) that can be trained and used to maintain an adult-to-child ratio in these circumstances. It goes back to planning and communication. Do staff have a walkie talkie or a cell phone while on the playground to notify that an additional person is needed? How do staff ensure that basic first aid supplies (i.e., latex or non-latex gloves) are on the playground? These are all important things to think about, well in advance, so that staff are trained and know what to do.

  5. Is it a good idea to have a child help you count during "Scan and Count"?
  6. Only if you are not counting on the child’s answer.

Last Reviewed: March 2016

Last Updated: November 14, 2016