Spring 2013 Health Link Online

HealthLink Online

Uniting Children, Parents, Caregivers, and Health Professionals

Active Supervision: What is Required?

Active Supervision: What is Required?

Active supervision minimizes harm to children from injury and illness. It is an essential component of quality care. Requirements for active supervision appear in the Environmental Rating Scales, Caring For Our Children, third edition, and in the Head Start Performance Standards. Many states use the Environmental Rating Scales to measure quality in group care.1 Comparable items directly related to active supervision appear in the 4 rating scales: ITERS-R (infant-toddlers), ECERS-R, (Early Childhood) FCCERS-R (family child care) and SACCERS (school age child care). For better scores on items 29 and 30 of the ECERS-R, staff members must:

  •  Protect safety, including preventing dangerous situation before they occur 
  •  Position themselves to see all areas, and move around as needed 
  •  Offer help when needed and remain aware of the whole group even when working with one child or a small group 
  •  Talk with children about what they are doing and intervene to manage problems 
  •  Organize the environment to enhance play and promote positive child-to-child social interactions. 

Caring for Our Children 3 (CFOC3)2 is the prime national reference health and safety in early care and education programs. CFOC3 is a widely cited publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association and the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. Among the many CFOC3 standards related to supervision are those that describe the overall methods of supervision (Std., keeping children safe during feeding (Std. ,water activities ( , sleep and rest (Std., transport (Std. 6.5.2) and when children are ill (Std. 3.6.2) too. Supervision must be by sight and hearing at all times, in the room when inside, and in the same space outside.  Supervision methods should include: 

  •  Count children, name to face on a scheduled basis, at every transition, and whenever leaving an area and arriving at another area. At all times, each caregiver/teacher must be able to state how many children and which children are in her care. Counting should occur at least every 15 minutes, using a timing device to remind staff to count. 
  •  Maintain required child:staff ratios at all times, on the facility premises, and during excursions off-site 
  •  Follow specific safety precautions for each area and all equipment 
  •  Have at least 2 staff members if more than 6 children are in care at all times 
  •  Assign caregivers/teachers to individual children, and if “zone” supervision with staff assigned to an area, then intentionally notifying staff in another area when a specific child is moving from one staff member’s zone of supervision to another’s. 
  •  Keep children out of any area not easily observed by a staff member or leaving gates or doors open to prevent a child’s hiding from adult view or wandering off

Head Start Performance Standards require active supervision.3 The specific standards involved are 45 CFR 1304.52, 1304.53, 1306.32, and 1306.35.  A Head Start Fact Sheet about active supervision includes vignettes and key strategies for active supervision.4 Although written for Head Start, these key strategies are applicable to all age groups, in any type of group care program and for all activities: 

  •  Set up the environment – Keep furniture at waist height or shorter, avoid clutter, make all spaces fully observable 
  •  Position staff – Choose locations of adults that enable hearing and seeing all the children and having a clear path to each child if it is necessary to take quick action. Caregivers/teachers stay close to children who might need special help or support. 
  •  Scan and count – Keep checking where the location and activity of each child. Count the children frequently and especially during transitions from one location to another. 
  •  Listen – Pay attention to the sounds in the environment. Use sounds such as a bell attached to doors in the room, or equipment being moved for use that needs close supervision. 
  •  Anticipate children’s behavior – Use knowledge both of typical behavior and possible unusual behavior because of specific characteristics or stress experience by an individual child to modify supervision, planned activities or other elements to help each child succeed and avoid harm.   
  •  Engage and redirect – Give children opportunities to problem solve, using observation to intercede when the child needs support. 

The Head Start Fact Sheet offers some reflective questions to help assess current practices, and then implement improvements. Consider combining the requirements in the ERS, CFOC3 and in the Head Start Fact sheet into a checklist to use with the reflective questions during a staff meeting. Suggest a way that each caregiver/teacher could have a turn to observe and share with those observed what they saw, using the items on the checklist to observe groups of children other than their own. Talking about what is expected and observing for each element will raise everyone’s awareness about active supervision. Collaboration among co-workers is essential to achieve active supervision. 


1Harms T, Cryer D, Clifford D, ECERS-R 2005. ITERS-R 2006. FCCERS 2007, SACERS 1995. Environment rating scales, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina. Print copies from Teachers College Press. Updated Notes for Clarification from the Environmental Rating Scales Institute http://www.ersi.info/index.html  - accessed 3/10/2013/

2National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. (2011). Caring for our children. HHS/HRSA/MCHB. Retrieved from: http://nrckids.org/CFOC3/ accessed 3/10/2013.

3Head Start Program, Performance Standards, 45 CFR Chapter XIII, (10-1-09 Edition) http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/standards/Head%20Start%20Requirements/45%20CFR%20Chapter%20XIII/45%20CFR%20Chap%20XIII_ENG.pdf - accessed 3/17/2013

4 The Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center of Head Start at http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc - search for “Active Supervision” – accessed 3/10/2013.