Parents Are Confused About When to Keep Their Kids Home From Day Care

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Every parent will, at some point or another, have to decide whether to keep their kid home from school. It’s such a common parental concern that the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital runs a poll on children’s health that surveys parents for their views on the subject. The latest numbers just came out, and an NPR story about them by Katherine Hobson includes some interesting tidbits about a particularly vulnerable group of kids: very young ones who are in day care.

First, the key takeaways from the poll itself:

The poll’s national survey of 1,442 parents of kids ages 6 to 18 released Monday found that the top factors in a decision to keep a child home are concerns that the illness will get worse or spread to classmates at school. Parents of older kids were also more likely to worry than parents of younger children about students missing tests or class time when making the stay-home-or-go-to-school decision. Interestingly, only 11 percent said that not wanting to miss work themselves was a “very important” factor in deciding whether a kid should stay home.

As the University of Michigan pediatrician and pediatric emergency medicine physician Andrew Hashikawa told Hobson, when it comes to younger kids, and day-care centers’ policies on when they should be kept at home, there appears to be a lot of confusion:

He has found, for example, that even in a state that endorses the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines for child care illness exclusions, day care policies didn’t reflect those guidelines.

And you may be surprised by what those guidelines say. For example, the dreaded pinkeye is not a reason to keep a kid out of day care, according to the pediatricians. “The vast majority are colds of the eye,” says Hashikawa. Vomiting is a reason to send a child home only if there are two or more episodes in 24 hours. A rash is no reason to keep a child out of day care unless it’s accompanied by behavior change, fever or drainage. And even a short-lived fever in an otherwise healthy-seeming child over 6 months old is not a reason to call Mom or Dad or require a physician visit.

Lots of parents also keep their kids home out of a fear they will spread germs to other kids, but as Hashikawa told Hobson, “The science really tells us that most disease is spread before the child gets sick.”

Both parents and day-care centers are a bit too conservative, it seems. Which is understandable: Who wants to mess around with little kids’ health? But given that keeping kids home from day care incurs heavy costs for parents, particularly those who are on a tight budget, it might be worth spreading the word about the science behind the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines.

When Should Parents Keep Their Kids Home From Day Care?