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Can Your Child’s School Handle an Emergency?

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Dec 15, 2014

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Parents spend a vast amount of time and effort searching for the ‘best’ playgroup, nursery or school for their children. They consider a number of factors when selecting these environments, including the quality of teachers and facilities, ambience, teaching methods, locality, and cleanliness.

However, most parents overlook a crucial question: Is the school adequately prepared and qualified for a medical or other emergency?

Children will get involved in activities that can (and will) require first aid, and therefore, ensuring they are safe should be a top priority for education professionals and parents alike. Even the treatment of minor injuries – such as cuts, bruises, nose bleeds and sprains – requires care, and using the correct techniques and supplies will reduce any pain and discomfort that the child may experience.

In more serious cases, it is essential for on-site staff to know correct primary first aid techniques, which can mean the difference between life and death / serious injury. It is impossible for the school doctor to arrive immediately and even more impossible to get the child to a doctor or hospital immediately; first aid makes all the difference in the time it takes to access professional medical care.

Schools should also be prepared for non-medical emergencies and have staff go through school safety training. So, when evaluating schools for your child, ensure they are prepared and qualified to care for your child by asking the following questions:

How many of your staff are trained in first aid or paediatric first aid? The school should be able to assure you that at least one staff member with first aid training is on site at all times during school hours. Beyond this, the school should assure you the training was: comprehensive, reputable, and current. Comprehensive training covers primary and secondary care. The training is reputable if it was provided by an established first aid organisation. (If in doubt, ask to see the school’s first aid certificates and/or ask for the name of the organisation or instructor who led the training and use Google.) Current training means the knowledge is up-to-date – first aid courses must be refreshed every 1-2 years.

Do you have fully equipped first aid boxes on site? How many? The school should keep at least one first aid kit on each floor and, further, one in each ‘hazard’ area (such as kitchens and science classrooms) in easily accessible locations, and all staff should know where the nearest kit is kept. The school should make sure these kits are checked and replenished regularly. At a minimum, these boxes should contain:

  • a first aid guide
  • an assortment of bandages [including triangular, sprain, crepe bandages]gauze, tape, and plasters
  • a thermometer
  • a sterile needle
  • tweezers
  • vinyl gloves
  • safety pins in various sizes
  • scissors

In the event that my child is injured or falls ill at school, what are your procedures for accident reporting? It is imperative that parents are informed  of the exact nature of the incident and how their child was treated. As well being a comforting factor, the record itself is may be necessary if your child needs further treatment for the injury or illness. Any reporting process should include:

  • A record of the date and time of the injury / illness, how and where it occurred
  • A note of the child’s signs and symptoms immediately after the injury / illness
  • A description of how the injury / illness was treated and by whom (note that a school should not give a child any form medication unless you or your child’s doctor have given explicit authorisation in writing to do so)
  • A record of whether and how a parent and /or doctor was contacted and whether / how the child was taken to a hospital

Do you have a doctor on call? All schools should have a doctor on call or on site, whom they can call for advice and guidance in case of an accident. The doctor should be local, in case he or she needs to come to the school to assess or treat a child.

In case of a medical emergency, is everyone on staff aware of the quickest route to the nearest doctor and hospital? All staff should know the location of the closest doctor and/or hospital and how to get there by the quickest route.

How are you prepared for non-medical emergencies such as fire, flooding or other natural disaster? The school should have an adequate number of fire extinguishers, doors and windows that are easily opened and free from obstruction, and clearly visible evacuation plans. Ask for details on evacuation plans and ensure that all staff is trained in evacuation procedures.

Is the school equipment safe and sturdy? From playground to hallways, the school should have proper, functional facilities. Playground equipment should be safe, sturdy, with soft “landing areas” (e.g., mats under slides). The school should maintain the equipment regularly. The school should also minimise the risk of accidents by ensuring floors are even and dry (especially during the monsoon), stairways have rails of child-friendly height, all cleaning supplies and medications are locked away, heavy furniture (such as cupboards and shelves) are secured to the wall, and there are no dangling wires or cords. Additionally – particularly in playgroups and nurseries with young children – all plug points should be out of children’s reach.

Are the school premises secure? The school should only allow authorised staff and persons entry. Entrances and exits should be manned by security staff. Outdoor play areas should have clearly defined and secure perimeters. And the school should only release your child to pre-approved people with photo identification.

Although many schools in India are inadequately prepared or trained to care for children, an increasing number are taking corrective measures. The more parents question schools’ child safety policies and procedures, the more schools will adopt measures to ensure their pupils’ safety.

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Written By Keshinee Shah

Ms. Keshinee Shah is an international lawyer and management consultant, with 20 years of first aid experience. She is a first aid instructor and has been conducting training in first aid under Emergency First Response for parents, students, care-givers and professionals, both in India and the UK, since 2011. Keshinee also holds a Diploma in Infant Massage from the UK.

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