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Child care supervision and child-to-staff ratios

Proper staffing and active supervision in child care centers are critical in helping to prevent incidents compromising children’s safety and well-being. This topic is more than complying with legal standards, as the reasons behind recommended child-to-staff ratios are linked to improved child development outcomes.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics et al. (2019), studies have found children in groups that comply with the recommended ratio receive more sensitive and appropriate caregiving and score higher on developmental assessments. Infants and toddlers particularly benefit from proper staffing ratios due to their specific physical safety and sanitation needs.

Child care providers play a crucial role in maintaining a safe environment for children. When caregiving needs exceed the capacity of the staff, it can lead to a fragmented team and compromised supervision. The potential for injuries increases without active supervision (meaning focused attention and intentional observation). By carefully meeting the recommended maximum child-to-staff ratios, you can promote active supervision in your center.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, and National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education collaborated to publish national health and safety performance standards with early care and education program guidelines. The guide describes the recommended maximum child-to-staff ratios for child care centers, which are included in the table below.

The child-to-staff ratio indicates the maximum number of children permitted per caregiver/teacher free to provide direct care, while group size is the number of children assigned to a caregiver, teacher, or team of caregivers/teachers occupying an individual classroom or well-defined space.

Child's age Maximum child-to-staff ratio Maximum group size
≤ 12 months
3:1 6
13-45 months 4:1 8
3 years 7:1 14
4 years 8:1 16
5 years 8:1 16
6-8 years 10:1 20
9-12 years 12:1 24

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics et al. (2019)

Please note that other regulatory agencies may have standards for supervision and staff ratios that differ from those referenced in this article. Please seek legal consultation to ensure your center is compliant with all regulations that it is subject to.

Tips for active supervision

  • Maintain a well-organized and clutter-free environment so staff can easily observe children in the space. Define play areas with physical or visual boundaries (such as furniture or tape) to help children understand where the safe play zone is.
  • Ensure adequate child-to-staff ratios and strategically position staff in the area they are supervising. When multiple caregivers are in the same room or space, they may position themselves so each can monitor a different portion of the space or specific group of children.
  • Train staff on their roles and responsibilities in terms of supervision.
  • Listen to the children and observe their body language and nonverbal cues to identify potentially dangerous situations or conditions.
  • Instruct staff to consistently scan the room and count the children present throughout the day. Anticipate children’s behaviors when possible.
  • Communicate and engage with the children during play and other activities. Showing the children that you are paying attention may reduce the likelihood of them misbehaving or taking actions that can cause injury. Intervene and redirect any unsafe behaviors.

American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, & National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. (2019). Caring for our children: National health and safety performance standards: Guidelines for early care and education programs (4th ed.)

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