Doing the right things, and writing them down
Going further than federal and state requirements makes before and after school and summer camp programs health policy uniquely Cheney’s
Sometimes the best policy is just to make sure you have a policy.
And in writing is even better.
That’s part of the impetus behind Cheney Parks and Recreation’s Childcare Health Policy, which addresses how staff will work with area children ages 5-12 enrolled in the city’s before and after school programs and summer day camps. The other part is since the city will be working with these kids during extended periods of their formative years, it makes sense to try to impart some good habits and practices that could affect them down the road.
“We wanted to make sure it was well thought out,” Cheney community obesity prevention coordinator Dane’ Standish said. “It’s a lot of people doing the right things, (we) just wanted to put it into a policy.”
Standish said most of what’s in the policy are practices staff are already following. The practices were developed by using appropriate federal and state guidelines together with input from three local experts in their fields: Natalie Tauzin in nutrition and EWU professors Barb Brock and Wendy Repovich in screen time and physical activity respectively, with Standish putting it all together.
The approach is evidenced-based, Standish said, and helps make the guidelines uniquely Cheney’s. For instance regarding nutrition, whereas state guidelines require meals be presented family-style, with kids learning to serve up proper portions, Cheney’s policy goes beyond the requirements by serving only “whole grain products prepared with whole grain flours,” 100 percent USDA approved fruit juices and water available at every meal and snack as well as throughout the day. Standish said they plan to involve kids more in the planning of meals to empower them and make things fun.
When it comes to physical activity standards the city has included components for skill development and safety and cooperation. The latter will be encouraged through stressing positive sportsmanship, Standish said, while the former is facilitated by the city’s purchase of exercise equipment such as hula-hoops, balls and parachutes through a grant from the Empire Health Foundation.
“We didn’t want any reason for anybody to say they couldn’t be active,” Standish said.
The third component, screen time, is also unique in that the city is going above and beyond the basic Washington State Department of Early Learning’s mandate of less than two hours by making its programs totally screen free. Zero time watching TV or playing video games, with an exception created for limited time for educational purposes.
“The kids shouldn’t have any problem with that because we bought them new toys,” Standish said.
Standish said a big component implementing the childcare health policy is going to fall on the city’s program staff. With an average of 70 kids in the programs at two sites, Betz and Windsor elementary schools, Parks and Recreation Director Paul Simmons said the city typically has between 10-15 staff members, striving for 1 to 8 or 1 to 10 staff per children ratios and thereby exceeding the state requirements of 1 to 15.
The city will be challenged with its staffing as more components of the federal Affordable Health Care Act come into play in 2014, particularly the requirement to pay full health care benefits to part-time employees working 30 or more hours per week. Simmons said they would be forced to cap these hours at 29.
“This drastically changes how we manage our crew, especially the summer staff and after school program staff,” Simmons said in an email. “It basically means a larger work force working less hours, which has its pros and cons.”
While staff time is a looming issue, Standish sees staff buy-in as the biggest key to the policy’s success. Staff members are being trained, and will need to serve as role models, such as with nutrition where all junk food is going to be out and intake of a healthier diet in – something that is a bonus because it’s also part of the city’s overall employee wellness plans.
Standish said they would work with parents too, striving for healthy families. And while she knows the kids will face outside influences to deviate from the goals of the health policy once away from city programs, she hopes maybe a little bit will rub off.
“If we can provide an environment while they’re with us where they’re eating well, maybe that when they’re at home they’ll remember those things,” she added.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.