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Consider the Pros and Cons of Offering Childcare Services in Your Club

childcare at gymSummertime is right around the corner. That means school will be out, parents will take time off from work often staying at home instead of going on a vacation. As a consequence, many young children get to be with mommy and/or daddy all day. So, when these parents want to go for a workout at the gym, they are sincerely appreciative of having a childcare perk at their health club.

The fact is, over half of all health clubs, with the exception of circuit training facilities, provide some sort of child sitting services.

If you are considering adding this service to your club or are starting a new club, you do want to be very clear about describing this service to members. And you want to weight the risks versus the rewards prior to making a commitment.

First of all, you want to refrain from referring to the service as a “day care center” since these are typically subject to strict operational and educational protocols. Childcare services at health clubs are designed to take care of children on a very limited, short-term basis while the parent is present at all times within the facility.

Once you have made the decision to offer child-sitting services to your members, there are several risk management steps you should consider first.

Space Design:  

Be sure that the children’s area is located near the front entrance and completely away from the workout floor.  Kids should NEVER be allowed in the workout area even if accompanied by the parent.  Tables, cabinets, and chairs should have smooth and rounded edges.  Electrical outlets should be placed out of reach of all toddlers and have safety plates installed.  All areas should be visible from any point within the room.  

Staffing:  

It is imperative that you conduct a background check on all employees who will have contact with children.  You can obtain this information through your local Sherriff’s department.  When interviewing for this position, which you will do often, ask yourself the question; “Would I let this person baby sit my child?

Digital Surveillance Cameras:  

Consider this a “must have.”  Whenever a child is injured, there is typically no possible defense.  However, if it is possible to view the injury as it happened, it removes all doubt and clearly shows responsibility.  Even if your club is “at fault”, the potential negligence can be determined quickly and the case can be settled more efficiently when you have hard evidence.

Waivers and parent/guardian release forms:

In addition to digital surveillance, a well written waiver and parent/guardian release form acts as an effective deterrent to filing a lawsuit, and in many jurisdictions can be upheld.

Policies and Age Limitations:

As with your regular club policies and guidelines, you must also have specific policies designated for the operation of your child sitting business.  Your policies and guidelines should outline the age limitations, illness disclosure, no diaper changing, no snacks allowed (keep in mind that some kids have food allergies) and that you have the right to refuse service to any unruly or high maintenance child.  Put these procedures in writing and post them next to your child sitting sign in sheet.  If you are going to allow infants, you should have at least two employees during all hours that infant care is offered with one specifically designated for the care of the babies.

Toys and Climbing Apparatus:

Keep all toys that can fit through the inside of a toilet paper roll out of the child sitting area.  If it can fit inside the roll, it will fit inside a child’s throat.  Also, it’s safest to keep the kids feet on the ground.  The moment they “climb” anything – even a three foot plastic slide – they will fall, and usually on the arm of a toddler.

The primary question club owners must ask before committing to offering childcare is this: Will you get enough “additional” mommy members to make up for the added expense?  If not, save the money and add a stretching room.  If you decide to offer child sitting, make it the safest, cleanest, and most fun facility in the county.