Offering a dedicated Child Watch service for members has clear advantages for fitness clubs. These services not only widen a club’s pool of potential members, but also can serve as a competitive advantage. And for clubs that choose to pass on the cost through a drop-in fee, it can also boost revenue.
But clubs that choose to offer this service should make sure that safety comes first. This means employing only qualified and trained staff, using a dedicated and secure space, and implementing and enforcing strict safety, hygiene and security protocols. These measures include:
- Dedicated staff should be both screened and trained thoroughly. Adhere to all licensing and regulations in your state and make sure to perform background checks before hiring. Require staff to be experienced and CPR/AED and first aid certified. Training should cover not only safety protocols and emergency response, but also specific sexual abuse prevention.
- Use a dedicated space that is secure and child safe. A dedicated Child Watch space should never be shared with other programs and always require secure entry, either buzzing in staff from the front desk or using a keycode. The space should have all electrical outlets covered with protective caps, window guards, cleaning supplies locked up, and security gates at the top and bottom of any stairs. Toys should be clean without sharp edges, while diapering areas should be separate from play areas.
- Implement and enforce a written childcare policy. Along with ensuring children are properly supervised, a core policy for any childcare facility is that no staff member should ever be alone with a child. Have staff train and practice around this “rule of three” policy to prepare for different contingencies. Additional policies should cover the amount of time a child may be in the facility (two to three hours maximum), food and allergies, diapers and toileting, and sickness and injuries. Display policies clearly and have available when needed.
- Institute regular cleaning and disinfection procedures. Cleanliness has long been a priority throughout clubs, and since COVID-19 emerged in 2020, it has become an even greater priority. Ensure all surfaces and toys are cleaned and disinfected on a regular schedule and conduct regular inspections of toys to ensure they are safe and not broken.
- Use careful sign-in and sign-out procedures. All parents should be required to sign in and out, provide cell phone and emergency contact information, remain in the facility and note their location in the club (cardio area, yoga class, etc.) in case they are needed for any reason. Also, any custodial issues or concerns should be documented with clear procedures—agreed to in writing by parents —for who may pick up a child.
- Have an emergency response plan. Make sure the Child Watch area is included in your club’s emergency response plan, and share these protocols with parents so there is never any confusion about where their child will be in the event of an emergency.
Addressing all safety and security issues for a Child Watch service will not only keep children safe, but also give parents peace of mind and contribute to the reputation of your club.
Brian Rawlings is Practice Leader for Venture Programs and has spent his career working in fitness and insurance. At Venture, Rawlings is leading the new FITLIFE® program, which insures fitness, wellness and spa facilities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.