Daycare, Preschool Staff: How Much Food Allergy Training Is Enough?

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Preliminary studies provide tentative answers to questions, and they can make us wonder about things not previously considered.

For instance, a survey assessing daycare staff knowledge and confidence in managing children’s food allergies might cause us to wonder, “How much training is actually required for staff competency?”

A Thought Provoking Survey

There was such a survey conducted two years ago in Australia where early childhood facility (ECF) accreditation requires that staff - since January 2012 - be competent in food allergy management.

The survey data showed that trained facility staff varied significantly in their knowledge of dealing with children “who experience food-induced allergies, and in particular severe food-induced allergies.”

Surveyed personnel generally expressed confidence in their understanding of how to correctly respond in food allergy emergencies. However, their confidence did not always reflect a grasp of proper protocols. Only 25 percent of those interviewed knew the correct procedure for anaphylaxis treatment.

The results of this preliminary study might make one consider that food allergy training at daycare and preschool facilities should be regularly revisited during the year, so that increased staff confidence reflects accurate knowledge.

The Human Factor

This apparent need for ongoing training has nothing to do with staff intelligence, compassion, or willingness to prepare. It has to do with human memory, emotion, and confidence building:

  • Memory. Human memory requires refreshment since most of us remember only the knowledge we use regularly. Following an allergy emergency plan and using auto-injectors are not regular occurrences.
  • Emotion. Parents know the fear and anxiety that attend caring for a child with food allergies. Daycare and preschool personnel are susceptible to these emotions as well. Parents also know the best way to keep anxiety and panic at bay is to be informed, and prepared.
  • Building Confidence. Confident people are more likely to handle emergency situations competently. The competence that builds confidence is created through the regular practice of skills and procedures.

Building Competence and Confidence

The results of studies such as the Australian ECF survey will strike different people differently, but two things that come to this writer's mind are:

  1. It is out of compassion for those who look after our young children that food allergy management training should be repeated at regular intervals during the year. None of us feel competent or confident in subjects we have learned once, no matter how excellent the training.
  2. Parents may want to find out if their daycare or preschool regularly revisits food allergy management. If they do not, what then? One option is negotiating with the facility to implement regular reviews. Parents might also take it upon themselves to, every so often, go over food safety, emergency plans, and auto-injector use with their child’s caregivers or teachers.

Though daycare and preschool staff already have crowded schedules, regular food allergy management refreshers would be as much for their benefit as the children’s. When emergencies arise, we all want our anxiety kept in check by competence and confidence.

Source: Mullan, Judy; Rich, Warren; Early Childhood Facility Staff Knowledge and Confidence with Food Allergy Management: A Preliminary Study; Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, March 2013. Photo credit: Parker Knight