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FOR RELEASE: July 26, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Leave Your Child in Safe Hands When Hiring a Sitter

It's natural to worry when leaving your child with a babysitter. Most of us have heard one or two terrifying stories of abuse or neglect at a sitter's hands, and you may wonder, "Can I trust this person to be as caring and gentle with my child as I am?" This is a legitimate concern, but stories of shaken babies and abusive nannies may distract parents from a much more common danger -- unintentional injury.

"Parents mistakenly believe that if a sitter is reliable and affectionate toward their children, that's good enough," says Martha Collar, coordinator of SAFE KIDS, a program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health. "Unfortunately, these qualities won't necessarily keep kids safe. Babysitters not only need to know what to do in an emergency, but they also should be able to predict the kinds of dangers kids -- especially toddlers -- can get into."

Protecting your children from injury should be foremost in your mind when leaving them in someone else's care. SAFE KIDS recommends you discuss your safety concerns with any prospective sitter.

What to ask your babysitter

To help put your mind at ease, interview several prospective babysitters before making a decision. SAFE KIDS suggests you consider the following questions when interviewing sitters:

  • Is the sitter at least 13 years old?
  • Is he or she responsible and reliable?
  • Is the sitter experienced, and can he or she provide references?
  • Has the sitter taken a babysitter-training course?
  • Is the sitter willing to accept your guidelines for taking care of your child?
  • Does the sitter understand the importance of watching a child at all times?
  • Does the sitter know what to do in an emergency?

What to tell your babysitter

Parents who choose to have a babysitter come to their home may believe this is the safest environment for kids. However, research shows more than 4.5 million children are injured in the home every year. In 1999 alone, approximately 2,100 children ages 14 and under died from unintentional injuries that occurred at home. Most home injury deaths are caused by fire and burns, suffocation, drowning, choking, falls, poisoning and firearms. Nearly 70 percent of these deaths occurred among children ages 4 and under.

Whether you select a family member, a neighborhood teenager or a friend to watch your child, SAFE KIDS recommends you take the following steps before leaving your child with a sitter:

  • Childproof your home. Explore your home at a child's level (on hands and knees, for example) to look for hazards. Detailed childproofing guidelines can be found on the National SAFE KIDS Campaign Web site at www.safekids.org.
  • Give the babysitter a tour of your home. Inform your sitter of the safety precautions you have taken; point out baby gates, child restraint locks, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, electrical outlet covers, toilet locks, etc. Show the sitter where phones, first aid supplies, fire extinguishers, and flashlights are located. Make sure your sitter knows your planned fire escape routes.
  • Show the babysitter where to find emergency telephone numbers. Lists near every phone should contain phone numbers of where you can be reached, the fire department, police department, poison control center, ambulance, hospital or emergency services, your doctor, a neighbor and a relative.
  • Make sure the sitter knows which rooms are off limits to your children -- especially infants and toddlers. For example, your child should not be allowed to play in the kitchen or the bathroom because too many hazards exist in those rooms.
  • Provide clear written instructions about appropriate dosage and schedule for any medications the sitter may give your child. Go over these instructions with your sitter before leaving.
  • Leave instructions regarding protective gear. If your child is allowed to ride a bike, skateboard, scooter or inline skates while you're away, make sure the sitter knows where to find your child's helmet, knee pads and other protective gear and insist that your child wear them.
  • Instruct your sitter never to leave your child alone -- even for a second. There is no substitute for constant supervision.

If you are planning to leave your child at your sitter's home, make sure you review the information mentioned above and check their home for childproofing first. The time and energy spent on these preliminary steps can make an important difference in your child's well being.

What every sitter should know

By taking a few precautions, your babysitter can help prevent a serious mishap. SAFE KIDS recommends you and your sitter review the following safety checklist designed specifically for babysitters.

  • Prevent fire. Keep all matches, lighters, gasoline and other flammable materials out of sight and locked out of children's reach.
  • If there is a fire, stay calm, get the children out of the home first, and call the fire department from a neighbor's home. Do not go back into the home, and make sure children do not try to return.
  • Avoid burns by using back burners and turning all pot handles toward the back of the stove. Keep hot foods and liquids away from the table and counter edges; do not use tablecloths or placemats around toddlers. Check the temperature of all microwave-heated foods and liquids, and never let young children use the microwave. Never carry children and hot foods or liquids at the same time.
  • Prevent falls. Never leave young children alone on changing tables, beds or other furniture. Keep stairs and other traffic areas clear of toys and wipe up spills right away. Make sure safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs are securely latched, and keep all windows fall-proof.
  • Lock up potential poisons, such as medicines, vitamins, household cleaners and cosmetics, out of children's reach. If you suspect a child has ingested poison, call a poison control center or doctor immediately and follow instructions.
  • Beware of choking hazards. Do not give children under age 6 hard or round foods such as grapes, hot dogs, hard candy or popcorn. Keep small toys, toys with small parts, and balloons away from young children. Check the floor, particularly play areas, for small objects such as buttons, beads, marbles, coins and tacks. Never let children wear clothing with drawstrings, necklaces, scarves or other items around their necks while using playground equipment.
  • Prevent drowning. Never leave a child alone in the bathtub - even in a bath ring or similar device. Empty all sinks, tubs, buckets and containers immediately after use. Store buckets upside down.
  • Keep cribs safe by removing all soft bedding and pillows and placing infants on their back to sleep. Never hang anything on or above a crib with a string or ribbon longer than 7 inches. Never place a crib near a window.


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