Security for Childcare Facilities


Childcare Facilities serve a critical role within our communities. By providing their services, these centres enable working parents to attend to their vocational needs, thus functioning as a small but critical component in driving the economy. Childcare centres are founded and run-on trust, where care is at the very heart of their service offering. Undeniably, they are places where parents must leave their most valuable and cherished connections, entrusting their children to be safe and well looked after. Therefore, it falls upon the childcare providers to meet this level of trust and provide a level of safety and security deserving of this.

This article is about security in childcare facilities and will discuss how security is a critical part of good risk management practice. Additionally, when it comes to dealing with emergencies, be they security or otherwise, this article will argue that preparedness and staff training are vital parts of any emergency response plan. Finally, this article will outline how security design and planning needs to be incorporated into all stages of the project lifecycle for these facilities including planning, design, construction, and operation. By understanding security within a risk management context, childcare designers and operators can make better security decisions.

Proactive Risk Management

Security is best understood within the context of risk. As with safety, security risks can be qualitatively assessed in terms of their likelihood and consequences, which yields the risk rating. This risk rating is not static and has to be regularly re-assessed in order to provide the impetus for risk control measures. Security is a proactive posture within any organisation. Reactive security after an incident occurs is often excessive and driven by a need to address the damage to reputation caused by an incident. Reactive security is more costly in the long term than a proactive security posture which is built on a standard risk assessment, and the adoption of security and/or emergency response training into the culture of the organisation.

The likelihood of crime risks can be understood by undertaking a historical crime statistical analysis. Physical security is one dimension of the risk paradigm, and these risks can be broadly classified as crime and terrorism related risks. Nightmare scenarios such as active shooters are unfortunately becoming more frequent in schools within geographies like the US, and it is important that childcare operators are conscious of this and in fact, should be prepared for the worst. Good risk assessment and the development of a comprehensive emergency response plan supplemented by regular staff training means that staff are prepared to minimise the impact and save lives when it matters most. In an emergency, staff and individuals do not rise to the occasion, they fall to the highest level of their training. In the modern era, physical security is not the only dimension that must be considered.

More than just Physical

An equally important domain for security is the cyber realm. Both state and non-state actors may seek to gain unauthorised access to a childcare centres network and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) databases that are often maintained with minimal security. Unauthorised access may compromise the centres video surveillance, security systems and expose their sensitive data to being held for ransom through ransomware attacks or even exposed or sold on the dark web. Unauthorised network access may also be facilitated either maliciously or unintentionally by insiders or staff or service providers. Vetting staff and service providers; performing background checks, police checks and working with children checks become critical in any effectively run childcare business. Cybercrime is one of the fastest growing crime categories and small businesses are having to face sophisticated and hyper-organised criminal and state sponsored attackers. Understanding cybersecurity risks, incorporating a strong cyber risk control plan, and maintaining regular cyber security training is a vital component to security for childcare centres.

Security throughout the Project Lifecycle

Some view security as important only when an incident happens. This is often too late and what results is a “band-aid” approach, this is where overzealous approaches to introducing measures such as blanket video surveillance and access control become expensive, constrain operations and are invasive. Security begins at the Planning stage. During planning, a licensed security consultant can conduct a crime statistical survey of the neighbourhood and conduct a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) review of the proposed development. These CPTED measures include “First Generation” principles, which are focused on the physical built environment, and “Second Generation” principles, which focus on securing the site environment through social and community development, as shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2, respectively.

The CPTED report at the planning stage can provide critical design input in terms of the importance of passive surveillance through open sightlines, effective lighting, elimination of blind spots, the use of landscaping for access control, the use of signage and lighting for territorial reinforcement and the importance of developing a total security management plan. Additionally, the CPTED report at the planning stage can provide the childcare centre operators with valuable insight into the use of community consultation, engagement, and strategies to boost security outcomes through activating community cohesion and guardianship. Another beneficial activity during the planning phase is for a security consultant to convene a security risk workshop in order to engage with all security stakeholders in order to identify all security risks and to put together a risk control plan that serves as a living document that is embraced as a cornerstone by the management of the childcare centre.

Figure 1 – First generation CPTED Principles

Figure 2 – Second generation CPTED Principles

During the design stage, the recommendations in the CPTED review and risk control plan can be translated into practice. Where possible, some of these are achieved through architectural means or where required by utilising electronic security such as video surveillance, access control systems, intercoms, gates, fences, vehicle access systems, pedestrian access systems and where required, the integration of fire control systems and lift control systems. Design stage services include detailed design of the above-mentioned systems and the specification of these systems for tender documentation.

The remainder of the recommendations are adopted into Emergency Management Plans developed specifically for the childcare centre. These Emergency Management Plans cover a wide spectrum of emergencies such as fire, bomb threats, gas leaks, hazardous material incidents, armed intrusions, severe weather incidents, earthquakes, flooding, medical emergencies, structural instabilities, and electrical incidents. These plans form the basis for regular staff and children training exercises, so that the childcare centre is always in a state of readiness should the worst-case scenario happen.

Construction stage is where the design is realised, and the prescribed or designed system is installed and commissioned. Security consultants play a vital role at this stage in inspecting the installed systems and ensuring that the tender specifications have been delivered and that “as-installed” documentation has been prepared to a satisfactory standard. A common problem for many childcare centres is that once the builder has handed over the site to the operators, the management has insufficient information on what systems, cabling and interfaces have been installed. This makes operation, maintenance, and future upgrades difficult and at times impossible.

In closing, security is a reality of the day-to-day management of the childcare centre. A good security system goes far beyond just installing cameras; a good security system is ingrained in the operational culture of the childcare centre. Regular security stakeholder workshops, regular updating of the security risk assessment and risk control plan and emergency management plan, and regular training of staff and attending children are all crucial to delivering a safe and secure centre.