The harmful effects of being exposed to too much sunlight are well known. Overexposure to the sun in the early years can cause UV damage to skin cells which is likely to lead to health problems in later years.
All early childhood education and childcare centres are duty-bound to protect children from UV damage.
National regulations require all childcare centres to have evidence-based sun safety practices in childcare Sun safety policy childcare areas that need to be addressed are-:
Australia’s harsh climate has resulted in Australians suffering from the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Much of the cellular damage caused by overexposure to the sun occurs in childhood. While the damage may not be apparent for years to come, being overexposed to the sun during childhood often results in an incidence of skin cancer in later years.
Children are at particular risk of UV damage as their skin does not contain a lot of melanin, a pigment that helps to protect the skin from harsh sunburn.
Adopting a sun protection policy for early childhood centres helps to reduce the risk of skin cancer developing in a child’s later years. Modelling sun safety in childcare centres will assist in teaching children good sun safe habits for life.
When formulating sun protection policy, child care centres are going to need to have clear guidelines around practical sun protection measures. These guidelines will necessarily cover the following areas.
Children should be encouraged to slip on clothing that covers and protects the skin from sun exposure, particularly n days where the UV index is high. If the skin can be seen, it can be damaged by the sun.
Applying sunscreen in childcare settings is a necessary part of sun safety policy. Sunscreen works to scatter and absorb UV rays, helping to prevent DNA damage.
It is not generally recommended that sunscreen be applied to babies younger than six months old.
Childcare centres may supply sunscreen to children or may ask parents to supply their own. In both cases, sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30+ should be insisted upon. Sunscreen should be applied to any part of teh body that is not covered y clothing. Ideally, it should be applied about twenty minutes prior to venturing outdoors.
Childcare centres should encourage children over the age of three years to apply their own sunscreen. Naturally, this should be done under supervision. This will help children to become sun smart and to adopt good suncare practices from an early age.
Wearing wide-brimmed sunsafe hats helps to provide the face and neck with shade from the sun. Sunsafe hats include legionnaire and bucket style hats. Caps and visors provide little protection and are not regarded as being sunsafe.
The childcare centre can provide storage space for hats and children should be encouraged to make putting a hat on part of their outdoor routine.
Encouraging children to play in the shade is an effective way of reducing sun exposure. Shade filters UV rays, reducing their harmful effects. .Shade does not form a complete barrier against the sun, but combining shade with sunscreen, protective clothing and suitable headwear will help to protect children.
Combining wrap around sunglasses with a wide-brimmed hat can reduce UV exposure by as much as 98%. The anticancer council recommends that sunglasses be worn outdoors at all times.
Taking these five initiatives will help childcare centres meet the objectives of the SunSmart policy
Sun safety practices in childcare are designed with a long term care approach in mind and are based on common-sense practices.