According to Youth Today, a non-profit organization, the number of children separated from their families by child welfare services due to substance abuse has nearly doubled in the past few years. A recent case was that of a New York resident called Joyce McMillan. She gave birth to a baby girl in 2022 whilst already living with a nine-year-old who was clearly a victim of neglect and maltreatment.
The New York Administration of Children’s Services had to take custody of the girls and place them in the foster care system for the next two-and-a-half years. Joyce protested against this move, stating that “a substance test is not exactly a parenting test.” But, the science and statistics speak against her bold claims.
The US Child Welfare Information Gateway clearly outlines the link between parental substance abuse and child maltreatment. Since illegal drugs interfere with a person’s ability to function optimally and make sound decisions, such people’s children often end up being neglected, abused, or both.
Now, the impact will be no different if a childcare worker were to look after children under the influence of illegal substances in their blood. These could include workers in daycare centers, pre-schools, or baby nurseries. Keep reading as this article delves deeper into how drug testing in childcare promotes safety for children and everyone else involved.
Childcare Drug Testing: The Need of the Hour
When it comes to protecting the most vulnerable populace, no measure is too stringent or exaggerated. This is the same conclusion that Melanie James, an Aussie school director and owner, came to when she discovered that several of their workers tested positive for illegal substances in their blood.
Melanie, herself a mother of four, found it shocking and concerning when four of the school’s workers had high amounts of alcohol and cocaine in their blood from the week before. The problem was only aggravated by the fact that 85% of the students were children with special needs. She stated that one of the first signs that raised suspicions was the poor performance at work. Thankfully, the workers were identified before any child was hurt or maltreated.
This is only one of the many cases worldwide that make drug testing the need of the hour.
1. Drug Tests May Prevent Child Abuse
Children under the care of childcare workers with illegal substances in their blood are not only vulnerable to physical abuse, but also emotional and sexual abuse in some cases. According to the National Library of Medicine, certain drugs are more potent than others in disrupting normal reasoning and brain reflexes.
For instance – Cocaine in the blood is found to make a person more violent and aggressive over time. On the other hand, medium doses of cannabis relax the nervous system. In the former case, a childcare worker may become physically or sexually abusive. As for the latter, the child might suffer physical and emotional neglect.
Drug testing keeps children safe by eliminating such occurrences.
2. Drug Tests Filter out Employees with Low Productivity
Harvard University has done considerable research on the link between workplace productivity and drug use. While over 70% of employees with a substance abuse problem maintain their employment, at least 42% report feeling drowsy, lightheaded, and a general sense of apathy or lethargy.
Is it a wonder that cases of daycare child neglect are rising? While some cases are due to intentional malice against the child, most are unintentional neglect caused due to low productivity on the workers’ part.
Without ignoring the realities of drug repercussions, childcare centers must conduct pre-employment and mid-employment drug tests.
3. Drug Tests Protect the Employer’s Reputation
Childcare drug testing is not only crucial from the viewpoint of promoting children’s safety, but also preserving the company’s and employer’s reputation. The Federal laws regarding workplace drug abuse lay down certain rules regarding employer liability.
For instance – If a childcare worker is found physically or sexually abusing a child during work hours (which is most likely the case), their employer will automatically suffer equal blame. However, the US Supreme Court does demand that a complete investigation be conducted to check whether the childcare service provider did their due diligence to test employees before hiring.
According to Health Street, drug tests are cost-effective and easily available solutions. So, there is little hope for the employer to escape a sentence if one of their employees is caught with a serious crime on their hands.
4. Federal Law Requires Childcare Providers to Drug-Test Their Employees
The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has laid down certain rules and regulations to make a drug-free workplace a reality. Employers in all industries (except for private companies) need to formulate a drug policy in place that is culturally fair so as to ensure the smooth functioning of daily operations.
Workplaces must drug-test employees before hiring, as well as conduct random tests at regular intervals to dissuade applicants and employees from engaging in illegal substances. In a childcare facility concerned with the protection of the vulnerable, this becomes all the more important.
Proper consequences, such as a rehabilitation program or immediate dismissal, must also be enforced to maintain a safe environment for children. Failure to do so will make all parties involved liable to charges (some even of a criminal nature).
Common Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect
If you run a daycare facility or a child welfare center, it is crucial to monitor the health and demeanor of every child under your facility’s care. This may be a bit more challenging (but also more crucial) if there are children with special needs involved. If you suspect any of the following signs, run a thorough check if any worker (whether deliberately or unintentionally under the influence of drugs) is causing harm.
Unexplained Scratches, Injuries, and Bruises
In most cases, children suffer daycare physical abuse bruises on their wrists, shoulders, buttocks, and neck. Also, they might cower or flinch if you were to do as much as touch them.
Oddities in Behavior
Keep a record of how children are progressing in your childcare center. If a happy child gradually shows greater signs of depression, shame, and social isolation, they may be a victim of abuse.
Do any of the child’s parents ever complain about the child having nightmares, bed wetting, or excessive crying? Keep an eye out for such issues.
A child may become overtly clingy or start bizarre activities like thumb-sucking when verbally or sexually abused. These are regressive behaviors.
Frequent Diaper Rashes
As the childcare center owner, you must also check whether the infants are receiving regular diaper changes throughout the day. Long-lasting diaper rashes are a red flag.
Unusual Interest in Sexual Behaviors
Sexually abused children showcase advanced sexual knowledge, likely given by the abuser.
Sudden, Unexplained Fears
Has any of the parents ever remarked, even jokingly, that their child fakes an illness or throws a tantrum for not wanting to come to the facility? This could be a sign of major abuse.
Shaken Baby Syndrome
This condition usually occurs when a frustrated caregiver abuses the child so as to cause permanent brain damage. Symptoms include lethargy, glassy eyes, frequent crying and vomiting, inability to focus, and seizures in some cases.
Just like the child, there are certain behavioral cues or signs to spot a bad daycare worker. Keep an eye out for these signs too –
- If children are eerily quiet and withdrawn in the company of a specific daycare worker
- When asked lovingly, some children may open up and state that they are scared of a particular daycare worker.
- If you notice a specific caregiver always gives excuses as how things are not running as they should
- Pay sudden, unplanned visits at random hours during the day. If you notice a caregiver is more often than not found scrolling through their smartphone or lazing around, the children under their care could be suffering neglect.
- If any child always seems to have soiled clothes, especially while leaving for their home
- If you find a caregiver with an irritable mood or a sad look during work hours
Common Drug Tests Available for the Childcare Industry
As per the SAMHSA regulations, every childcare service provider is responsible for conducting the following drug tests before hiring employees or during their term. These tests should be done via one of the SAMHSA-certified laboratories for comprehensive results.
1. Urine Test
This is an easy test conducted by taking a worker’s urine sample. Most illegal substances, including alcohol consumed no later than seven days, may be detected.
2. Hair Drug Test
This drug test is comparatively advanced because it is able to detect drugs for as long as 90 days from the day of consumption. It can detect marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
The screening may be done on several occasions, including –
- At the time of employee hiring
- At random intervals to maintain childcare safety
- If the childcare service provider has reasonable suspicions that a caregiver may be involved in drug abuse
- If there has been a case of accident or injury and the employer suspects drug use may be involved.
- After a worker has recovered from a prolonged illness
Studies suggest that nearly 23.4% of children under the age of five are dropped off at a daycare center. Over 2000 reports of abuse were reported in 2021, out of which 20% were cases of sexual abuse. The aftermath of any form of child abuse, especially sexual abuse, can never be overstated.
Many children reportedly suffer from major PTSD symptoms, such as fear of love and touch, anxiety, fits of rage, depression, and irritability. Most children (if not given proper treatment) grow up to be adults who are substance abusers or indulge in risky sexual behaviors.
A simple procedure like drug screening at the pre-employment and mid-employment stages may become a matter of life and death for a child. After all, the saying is true – “To learn the value of a nation, one must pay close attention to the way they treat children (their most vulnerable).”