Defending the Daycare with the Sunburned Kids

August 03, 2015 by Kayla Olson

A childcare center in Oklahoma is in hot water after extremely graphic photos of two children that were severely sunburned began circulating around the internet. According to the daycare, the children were told to keep their shirts while on a field trip to a pool but they did not listen to their teacher. The kids are currently hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns and will likely have permanent scarring and an increased risk of skin cancer later in life.

While it’s clear that something went very wrong here, many may not realize that childcare providers must follow licensing rules regarding sunscreen. I used to work in a childcare center here in Wisconsin and licensing regulations required us to treat sunscreen as a medication. Licensing rules vary from state to state, and Wisconsin is arguably one of the stricter states, but these providers may have been restricted in their ability to supply sunscreen.

The Wisconsin licensing rules state “Sunscreen and insect repellent may only be applied upon the written authorization of the parent. The authorization shall include the brand and ingredient strength of the sunscreen or insect repellent. […] Children shall be protected from sunburn with protective clothing, if not protected by sunscreen.”

At my center every parent was required to bring in sunscreen for their children since they all had different brand and SPF preferences. It was also the parents’ responsibility to put sunscreen on their children before dropping them off. If a child ran out of sunscreen and the parents hadn’t brought in more, we technically weren’t allowed to put any on them. However, as teachers we had responsibilities too. If a child was running low, we had to be sure to ask the parents for more sunscreen before they ran out. If the parents forgot, we kept asking. As I’m sure busy parents and teachers alike can appreciate, sometimes this was a challenge.

Many of the comments on this story berate the childcare providers for not putting sunscreen on the boys or for letting them go on the field trip without it. However, it just may be more complicated than that. The providers may have been asking the mother for sunscreen for days leading up to the field trip. If the boys’ whole class was going to the water park, the providers would have no choice but to bring them.

Were they wrong for not making the boys keep their shirts on? Absolutely. Should they have done more to protect these children from serious harm? Definitely. Would I have let this happen to a child in my care? No way. No child should ever experience horrific burns like this, and the pictures are heartbreaking. But, as a former provider, I can appreciate that there may be more nuance to this story.

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