Parents naturally have high expectations of hotels when it comes to issues of their children's safety and security. Such concerns are even higher for travelers who hope that hotel "kids' programs" will offer safe, fun activities while parents are elsewhere in the hotel. Experiences with hotel-based childcare can be enjoyable and safe for children if parents check out options, activities, and the premises first. There are several ways to do that.
Know the Law
Every state has its own laws regarding the policing and licensing of childcare centers, including those in hotels. In New York, for instance, a drop-in childcare center does not need a daycare license if it doesn't care for kids for more than three hours or on a regular basis. So too in California and Arizona, drop-in care such as hotel kids' camps do not need a daycare license, and parents must sign a consent form stating that they will be available on the hotel premises while their kids are in care. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care has details on all state childcare licensing regulations.
If you plan to use babysitting services instead of the kids' camp, call ahead and ask whether the hotel has a contract with a registered service that checks the background of its employees.
Learn the Hours
Hotels have begun to recognize the need for kids' programs to coincide with convention timings and conference events. Often, however, hotel kids' camps end by 4 p.m. A call ahead will let you know whether to arrange for a babysitter afterward or rearrange your own schedule.
At many Disney hotel and resort properties, for example, recreation programs for children begin at 3 p.m. and, depending on the age of the child, go on past midnight to help parents who wish to be at a business banquet or hang out at the spa.
Provide Detailed Information
If the staff doesn't ask you to fill out a thorough registration form when you drop off your child, take the initiative and provide your contact information. Also indicate your child's allergies, nap times, fears, eating preferences, physical abilities (especially swimming skills, since pool activities are common), and whether your child can leave the premises for a field trip.
Before you leave your child with hotel care staff, be sure to provide this information:
- Phone numbers where you can be reached, as well as an emergency contact back home.
- Name and number of the child's pediatrician.
- Food and medication allergies.
- Special needs, birthmarks, or recent injuries.
- A signature authorizing emergency care if needed.
- Instructions on what to do if your child is not happy in the program. Tell the staff how long they should try to engage your child. If you want to be called, say so.
Even with Mom or Dad in the hotel room with them, young children may still get into trouble. It takes only momentary distraction -- going into the bathroom, unpacking, or answering the phone -- for kids to escape a parent's watchful eye. Michelle La Rowe, recipient of the International Nanny Association Nanny of the Year award, suggests the following areas that parents should check in a hotel room:
- Room Location: Familiarize yourself with the emergency exits near your room. Ask the front desk for a map.
- Window Warning: Make sure furniture is away from the windows so toddlers can't climb up and reach the window latches. To prevent strangling or entanglement dangers, bunch up window-shade cords in a circle then tie them with a twist-tie high enough to be out of reach.
- Lamp and Iron Cord Concerns: If cords are loose and dangling, use a twist-tie to make a loop of the cords and tuck them away out of reach of curious hands. If electrical outlets are in reach, move furniture around to prevent access, or pack outlet covers with you to use.
- Bathroom Risks: Check water temperature yourself (it should be between 96 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Pack a bath thermometer (such as the Floating Bath Pal by Safety 1st). Some bath toys (such as plastic boats) come with a built-in gauge to measure bath temperature.
- Furniture Pointers: Are there sharp edges on nightstands and beds? Pack removable edge and corner guards. Pack masking tape (which doesn't leave marks on wood) to seal drawers and keep little fingers from getting jammed. Another trick is to wedge a sock in the opening of the drawers.