Hot drinks for parents: What are the considerations and risks?
As competition for early childhood education and care (ECEC) enrolment intensifies, many services are offering added extras for parents, one of which is offering tea and coffee, sometimes with a biscuit or muffin, for parents to consume as they head off to begin their day.
While this is great for building relationships with families and convenient for parents, the Queensland Department of Education has said that serving food and hot beverages in the same place as babies and young children “is inherently risky”.
What are the risks?
The risk of burn and scald injuries for children under the age of four years is high. In Queensland, nearly two children up to the age of four years are taken to hospital every week for more than a day after sustaining a serious burn injury. Children aged 12–24 months account for 30 per cent of paediatric burn injury cases, according to the Burns Registry of Australia and New Zealand Annual Report 2019/2020.
Hot liquids and beverages like coffee, tea, hot tap water, soup and noodles are a common source of burn and scald injuries in children four years of age and under. These injuries often require skin grafts and can result in scarring.
Busy times = increased risk
Busy times such as drop off increase the risk of such accidents.
“All it takes is a distracted adult and a cuppa left on the edge of a table for a curious child to reach up and grab the cup, spilling the hot liquid over themselves,” the Department notes.
Another important consideration is that one in 10 Australian children, according to the Australian Institute of Food Safety website, have a food allergy. While many children will grow out of an allergy to milk, egg, soy or wheat in childhood, allergies to substances such as sesame, seafood, peanuts and tree nuts, the allergy is typically lifelong.
For as long as a person is allergic, they are at risk of a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction, making freely available food such as biscuits and muffins problematic.
Protection from infection
Good hygiene, such as washing hands regularly, particularly on arrival, before and after eating, after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing or using the toilet is paramount in ECEC settings.
Unfortunately for busy parents, stopping to wash hands during the busy morning commute period may be seen as too much effort, and with multiple parents accessing tea and coffee making equipment, along with food, increases the risk of spreading infectious disease.
If food is being prepared on site, it is important that any food handlers follow NHMRC hygiene guidance in staying healthy: preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services .
Adjust policies to suit
Before offering families hot beverages or food, services should assess any risks, consider the precautions they need to take to mitigate those risks, and consider any precautions which need to be taken.
As a result of these reviews, services may need to consider what policies and procedures they will need to change to ensure children are safe, healthy and well.
Under section 167 of the National Law, approved providers must demonstrate they are taking every reasonable precaution to protect children from harm and any hazard likely to cause injury, including any injuries which may arise from the presence of hot drinks and food.
The following questions may help services to reflect on how risks can be mitigated when it comes to making hot drinks or food available to parents or carers:
- Will your service offer only hot beverages? Or food as well?
- When will adults collect their hot beverage or food – when entering the service, or exiting?
- Is it takeaway or can they relax in a parent lounge or kitchen?
- How will you ensure beverage and food preparation is hygienic?
- Will parents and carers need to walk through any areas where there are children?
- Will they serve themselves? If so, who will manage the self-service area and how?
- What type of cups will your service use – disposable or non-disposable?
- If disposable, are the lids screw on and secure or do they come off easily if dropped or bumped?
- Can an adult open the entry and exit gates or doors one-handed while holding food or hot beverages?
- Is the entry and exit foyer wide enough for people to pass each other without bumping?
- Does your service’s insurance cover include burns or scalds?
- Will you allow adults holding children who are unable to walk to make or drink a hot beverage?
- Can adults making a hot beverage thermostatically control its temperature?
- Will you make sure adults adhere to Kidsafe’s recommendation of 50°C?
- Does the service have a burns and scalds action plan?
- How will educators and staff manage allergic reactions?
- Is your first-aid kit suitably equipped?
Burns and scalds
- Food and dietary guidelines (Queensland Department of Education)