Protecting Babies’ Brains at Municipal Child Care Facilities

April 16, 2020
Child playing at a daycare center.

Millions of families rely on child care providers to care for their children. Child care providers provide critical connective tissue for families and communities — particularly when families and communities are under stress due to a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Though both home-based and center-based child care providers are familiar with the steps needed to prevent the spread of infection, vigilance is needed at an even higher level today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance for childcare centers that remain open (April 12). Updates include additional options for screening children upon arrival to ensure that children who have a fever or other signs of illness are not admitted to the facility, along with a host of recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19. It’s important to note that the CDC guidance directs that cloth face coverings should not be put on babies and children under age two due to suffocation danger. My organization, the Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN)— a partner of Bright Cities — has useful information about less toxic household chemicals that can be used for disinfecting at home. Additional information about less toxic cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting strategies to reduce and prevent COVID-19 transmission can be found here.

While supporting providers' immediate needs to address COVID-19, we can also look for moments to embrace longer-term thinking related to efforts to create a less toxic future safer for babies’ brains. The Children’s Environmental Health Network is dedicated to protecting children from environmental health hazards. One way we do this is through our Eco-Healthy Child Care® program.  The Eco-Healthy Child Care® program shares realistic and cost effective best practices for reducing exposures to pesticides, lead, mercury and harmful chemicals in cleaners, furniture, carpets, playground equipment, plastics, art supplies and more. We provide a two-year national endorsement to child care facilities that qualify as “Eco-Healthy” by complying with at least 24 of 30 simple, free or low-cost environmental health best practices found on our checklist.

Bright City Jackson MS has two Eco-Healthy Child Care® endorsed providers. As part of their Bright Cities project, Jackson city staff partnered with a local community-based organization called OneVoice to survey child care facility staff and parents to assess gaps in the prevention and mitigation of neurotoxic exposures. The data will be used to implement targeted educational activities for parents and child care providers.

The Eco-Healthy Child Care® program offers additional useful resources for child care providers.  CEHN published 16 free fact sheets — available in Spanish and English — about indoor air quality, household chemicals, pesticides and more. We offer a 3-hour online course called Protecting Children’s Environmental Health recognized in 48 states for adult learning clock hours (cost is $30). And we recently published a Lead-Safe Toolkit for Home-Based Child Care in partnership with the National Center for Healthy Housing and the National Association of Family Child Care. The toolkit contains a free educational poster, sample policies and user-friendly worksheets with easy-to-follow steps for determining if lead hazards exist and what to do to reduce any potential exposures.

Would your City like to learn more about the Eco-Healthy Child Care® program? Contact Kathy Attar, EHCC Engagement Manager, Children’s Environmental Health Network, at kattar@cehn.org

Is your City interested in being part of Healthy Babies Bright Futures’ Bright Cities program? To discuss this and anything else, please contact Bright Cities Program Director, Kyra Naumoff Shields at knaumoff@hbbf.org.