Did you know that 5.6 million American kids under 18 have food allergies? That’s roughly 1 in 13 kids – or 2 kids in every classroom! And that’s just food allergies. Children can suffer from a wide range of allergies, whether due to insect stings, medication, or seasonal and environmental changes. For parents of kids with allergies, trusting others to care for their children can be very stressful. So how can families and childcare staff work together to ensure the safety of their children?
Allergy symptoms depend on the substance involved, and can affect the airway, sinuses and nasal passages, skin, and digestive system. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, with the most serious being a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis [Source: Mayo Clinic]. For those with any kinds of allergy, managing them on a daily basis is key, ensuring you don’t come into contact with whatever might cause a reaction, and also making sure that you have the right medications or supplies to help you should you experience symptoms.
So what happens when you send your little one to camp or after school programs, where they are away from home in an unfamiliar environment?
Here are some ways that parents can help ensure that allergies don’t get in the way of your child’s experience:
- Provide as much information to staff as possible when your child enrols (Hint: ePACT’s allergy module is an easy way to ensure that nothing gets missed)
- Give staff early notice of the allergy so plans can be made – this is especially important for food or dietary allergies that require specific attention
- Ensure your child has a valid Epipen with them as they head off and that the staff is given sufficient supplies to use in an emergency
- Discuss the child’s responsibilities with them:
- Ensure that they know not to eat anything with unknown ingredients or trade food with other kids
- Make sure they understand the symptoms of their allergic reaction(s) and the importance of recognizing any degree of reaction so that they can tell staff immediately
- Instruct them on how to properly use their Epipen and ensure they can read food labels (if appropriate for their age)
Program staff can help your child to prevent allergic reactions and respond quickly in the event of an incident:
- Notify all relevant staff of critical allergies – a report of all participants with known allergies and details of their reactions is a great place to start, especially if a child is participating in multiple camps or activities
- Know how to contact the medical team or first responders as quickly as possible (e.g. if a camp is in a remote location, should they contact the on-site nurse first, or immediately call 9-1-1)
- For remote camps, there should be a plan in place for getting paramedics to the camp or transporting the camper to a hospital
- For children with particularly severe food allergies, there might need to be a specific plan in place when it comes to meal times. Depending on how food is served:
- Allow the child with allergies to eat or access food first to avoid cross-contamination
- Provide a separate space for the child to eat so that they can do so without the risk of encountering food allergens from other participants
- In case a nurse or staff member must administer medication, they should be properly certified to do so and have access to the right medications
- Plan for reactions – ensure that medication is brought on all outings and that all staff now how to use an Epipen
Ensuring the safety of kids with allergies is ultimately a matter of communications and building trust between staff and parents. For parents, it’s essential to provide the right information at registration. For staff, it’s crucial to have that information easily accessible by the whole team, at all times – even when off-site.
[* Resource: Food Allergy Research & Education]
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