Health Manager Orientation Guide

Culture of Safety and Active Supervision

An adult supervising a child on a playground slide.To promote optimal child development, each program creates and enforces policies and procedures that provide safe environments for children to be active and ready to learn. Managers, staff, and families take actions to keep children safe by embedding safety into the program's culture. Everyone works together to realize a culture of safety, and each person understands their role and responsibilities in preventing injuries.

Everyone contributes to an environment that allows people to speak up about safety concerns. Programs use mistakes as teachable moments to inform training and future planning. Programs can keep children safe by coordinating and integrating basic actions into program activities.

10 Actions to Create a Culture of Safety

These 10 actions are science-informed injury prevention strategies used by early childhood programs. Programs can use their management systems to integrate these 10 actions into all their activities.

  1. Use Data to Make Decisions
    To make informed decisions, programs can collect, analyze, use, and share data to plan, implement, and evaluate injury-prevention strategies. Injury and incident data are an important source of information to evaluate children's safety and identify the most effective strategies and to minimize the risk of injury. Hazard Mapping for Early Care and Education Programs is a tool to identify patterns of injuries to understand steps to take to prevent them reoccurring.
  2. Actively Supervise
    Young children are more likely to get injured when they are left unattended. Lower levels of adult supervision are associated with a greater chance of more severe injury in young children. Having an attentive adult nearby is the best way to prevent injuries. Staff need a systematic, easy-to-use process to set up the environment, observe, and interact with children to promote child safety. Active supervision offers an effective strategy in six steps for adults to look, listen, and engage to prevent childhood injuries. The six steps to implement active supervision are:
    • Set up the environment. Set up the environment so staff can observe children at all times. When activities are grouped together and furniture is at waist height or lower, it is easier to see and hear children. Make sure spaces are clutter-free and permit easy access to children.
    • Position staff. Plan where staff will position themselves to see and hear all of the children. Make sure there are always clear paths to reach children so staff can react quickly and provide additional support when needed.
    • Scan and count. Continually scan the entire environment to know where everyone is and what they are doing. Count the children frequently. This is especially important during transitions when children are moving from one location to another.
    • Listen. Specific sounds or the absence of them may signify reason for concern. Listen closely to identify signs of potential danger.
    • Anticipate children's play. Staff use what they know about each child's individual interests and skills to predict what they will do. Knowing what to expect can help protect children from harm.
    • Engage and redirect. Know when to offer children support. Wait until children are unable to solve problems on their own to get involved. Offer different levels of assistance or redirection depending on each individual child's needs.
  3. Keep Environments Safe and Secure
    Keep children's spaces free of hazards that could lead to injuries. Maintaining a safe and secure environment involves either removing hazards or storing them in locked cabinets.
  4. Make Playgrounds Safe
    Children climb, run, and play safely in outdoor environments that meet federal, tribal, state, and local requirements and best practices for age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate playground equipment. Staff inspect playgrounds and report or remove hazards before each use to maintain safety.
  5. Transport Children Safely
    Programs create, consistently implement, and enforce policies and procedures for driver qualifications, vehicle inspections, and child passenger safety. Training for transportation staff and contractors should include measures to account for children at all times, especially when they are getting in and out of the vehicle.
  6. Report Child Abuse and Neglect
    When someone suspects a child may be abused or neglected, they are legally required to follow policies and procedures for reporting suspected child abuse and neglect.
  7. Prepare for Changes That Affect Safety
    Programs identify transitions and changes in the environment, which include changes in caregiver, activity, or location. Staff recognize the impact of transitions and changes in daily routine and provide additional support for children who are more likely to have trouble with these changes. They also practice active supervision to protect children from injury.
  8. Model Safe Behaviors
    Staff demonstrate safe behaviors, then encourage other adults and children to use them too. Modeling safe behaviors is an important part of the nurturing, positive relationships that staff establish with children and families.
  9. Collaborate with Families About Safety
    Home safety conversations begin at enrollment, during the family partnership process, and continue throughout the year. Support families by highlighting safety risks to infants, toddlers, and preschool children. Complete home safety checks and identify safe sleep and other safe practices. Staff can help families reduce the number and severity of injuries that occur in the home by helping them obtain safety supplies such as smoke detectors and baby gates.
  10. Know Your Children and Families
    Staff understand each child's developmental level and abilities and each family's preferences, culture, and traditions. Engaging in respectful, goal-oriented partnerships with families helps them feel welcomed and safe while building trusting relationships over time.

Keeping children safe is a top priority for all Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Active supervision is the most effective strategy for creating a safe environment and preventing injuries in young children. It transforms supervision from a passive approach to an active skill.

Review Guiding Questions for Active Supervision and Safety to learn more about incorporating safety at all levels of Head Start management systems.