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Mel Gravely

Handling Medical Emergencies in Head Start

“His face is blowing up!”

“Call 911! There’s tons of blood!”

“She’s fainting!”

These situations are every early childhood director’s nightmare. Head Start staff, however, is prepared for this possibility. Medical emergencies can happen because of injuries, chronic health conditions, or unexpected major illness.

No matter how bad the injury, keeping a clear head can save the day. Setting up the policies in an understanding way and reviewing them with parents and staff will help you be calm when faced with an emergency.

The Head Start Performance Standards requires preparation for emergencies, as noted in 1302.41 (2) (At a minimum, programs must) “Share with parents the policies for health emergencies that require rapid response on the part of staff or immediate medical attention.”

This will need to be started at intake, where you will sensitively gather medical information about the child, including allergies which are extremely prevalent today, as well as health issues which can include cardiac concerns, epilepsy and more. In communities where some diseases carry stigma, care must be taken to ensure parents are aware of the repercussions of not involving staff.

All parents must be informed of your policies for health emergencies! The easiest way to do this is to give them the actual policy you have for medical emergencies, and review it with them.

Another point to consider: how do you ensure all staff, including substitutes and aides are aware of medical allergies and health needs, without violating privacy? You don’t want a substitute pouring milk to highly allergic child. Do you hang the information with a cover sheet in the classroom? Prevention is key here.

With an estimated 5.9 million allergic children, many Head Starts are nut free or peanut free. Early childhood can be a challenging time for an allergic child. Early/Head Start may be the only environment that caters to them, a lifesaver. Staff must be well trained on responding to the allergic child.

If a medical emergency does occur, all staff must know what to do. You may even want to run periodic trainings for volunteers and parents, on first steps in medical emergencies. Classroom as well as health staff should have information handy, for example CPR, Heimlich Maneuver, and clear directions for storage of the first aid kit and Epipen. Staff should also know when do you call 911 and when to call the parent/guardian.

Here’s to a health in Head Start!

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