The Office of Head Start (“OHS”) recently released a new Information Memorandum (IM), “ACF-IM-HS-14-04,” addressing bus transportation and safety. Child safety and active supervision have been hot button issues in Head Start/EHS. In fact, lack of adequate systems, inadequate training, and human error have all led to numerous re-competes for HS/EHS grants in recent years. Because the safety of children must be paramount, IM-HS-14-04 instructs agencies to institute redundant (or fail-safe) safety systems, such as sign-in sheets or “token” systems, to safeguard against human error. OHS also recommends the following 6 key strategies for supervising children on a bus:
- Environment– Create an environment that fosters good habits for bus monitors and drivers. For example, place a small token underneath the last seat on the bus so that the driver or monitor must walk to the back of the bus to collect the token after finishing each route.
- Staff position– Strategically position staff members at the front and back of the bus, and require that monitors stay with the bus until an authorized adult has picked up each student.
- Scan and count– Record attendance as children board and leave the bus and as they transition into the care of the Head Start center or a family member. Also, in addition to bus drivers, monitors, and transportation supervisors checking the bus at the end of every shift, other program managers or family members should sometimes check the bus at the terminus of routes.
- Listen– Bus monitors and drivers should be vigilant to unusual sounds that possibly indicate danger.
- Anticipate children’s behavior– As much as possible, bus monitors and drivers should travel the same routes every day so that they build relationships with the children and their families. Drivers and monitors should also proactively check in with the adults dropping their children off in order to gain an understanding of what to expect from each child when they are upset or not feeling well.
- Engage and redirect– Bus monitors should help soothe, distract, or refocus children when they become upset and need help calming down. When possible, children who need extra support should also be seated close to a monitor.
Given the severity of the potential outcomes if your program provides transportation and it doesn’t get this right, it is critical that you dust off your transportation policies/procedures and active supervision policies, ensure all staff are trained and know what to do, and that you spot-check and monitor. For further assistance understanding and developing systems, policies and procedures to ensure your program’s compliance with Head Start regulations and guidelines, please contact us or browse our Head Start training library.