Safe sleep practices in Family Day Care settings

  • ​Ensuring children are protected through safe sleep practices in the family day care service.
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Safe sleep practices save lives

Ensuring the sleeping environment of a baby or child in your care is safe and fit for purpose is a crucial part of your responsibility as an early childhood educator or child carer.

Whilst rare, some instances of death have occurred when a child has been sleeping at an education and care service, and coroners’ reports have found poor sleeping environments and procedures, and lack of appropriate supervision have placed children at unnecessary risk.

Red Nose is Australia’s leading authority on safe sleep and SIDS prevention, and we’re here to help make it as easy as possible for you to stay up to date on current safe sleeping practices so that the children in your care can safely get the rest and sleep they need to be happy and healthy,

We’ve got some tips on how to ensure the care you provide is guided by best practice advice and backed by evidence-based research.

First things first

Get to know the children in your care

Regular and open communication with parents or caregivers is key to ensuring you can make accurate risk assessments about a child’s vulnerability to SUDI. This is particularly important in very young babies, between birth and 12 months of age, because babies’ development can be so varied during this time and parents’ practices at home can differ dramatically.

What to look for:

  • Ethnicity weight – low birth weight babies have extra risk factors for SUDI
  • Gestational age at birth – premature babies can also face greater risks
  • Previous history of illness – does the baby/child have a history of respiratory illness or has the baby/child recently been ill? These children may need more frequent checks while sleeping
  • Model of feeding – is the baby/child breastfed or formula fed?
  • Exposure to environmental stressors – for example, tobacco smoke

Practical questions to ask parents include:

  • Does your baby/child usually have a daytime sleep? When and where?
  • Can your baby roll?
  • Do you practice tummy time at home?
  • What is your baby/child’s going-to-sleep routine? For example, does the baby self-soothe or have other sleep associations or cues?
  • Does your baby/child use a soft toy? Soft toys should never be used in the cot environment with young babies in your care.

Talking to families can sometimes lead to difficult conversations where their sleep practices sit outside the Red Nose’s safety recommendations, but child safety should be always your priority. If families make requests that are contrary to best practice and increase risk to children, refer to your service’s policies and procedures.

Next Steps

Five tips for setting up a safe sleeping environment

  1. Location, location, location. Babies/children should sleep in a dedicated room separate, but accessible from the main activity room. The room should have adequate light and ventilation so that you can keep a close eye on each child during sleep.
  2. Remove any unnecessary furniture from the sleeping space that could cause accidental injury or become a trip or falls hazard. Likewise, any access to stairs should be completely blocked off.
  3. Look up, look down, look all around. Are there any hanging cords, blinds, clocks or wall hangings such as bunting, pictures or canopies or that could pose a danger to a baby/child?
  4. Zoom in on the sleep surface. Babies should sleep in a safe cot that meets mandatory Australian Standards. Babies should not be placed to sleep in a pram, bouncer, car seat, capsule or any other inclined device, which are not designed as dedicated sleep spaces. Importantly: the cot should be clear of pillows, bumpers, lambswool or thick loose bedding, even if the child is older than twelve months of age. These pose a significant suffocation risk.
  5. For older children, floor mattresses are the safest place for sleep, reducing the risk of injury if they fall. Educators should ensure adequate space is maintained between each mattress to allow staff to check on each child safely. A note on pillow use: In line with Government recommendations, the safest time to introduce a pillow is over the age of two

Don’t Stop There!

Supervision is key

Providing a safe sleep environment is an important first step, but don’t stop there. Regular checks of children whilst they are sleeping is important too, and we don’t mean a glance through a window.

An adequate check is one:

  • That occurs physically from the side of the cot (or floor mattress for older children) at least every ten minutes
  • Where you are not distracted by other activities or responsibilities
  • Where you have the time and space to observe and physically check the rise and fall of a child’s chest and the colour of their skin and lips

Learn More

Any staff responsible for the supervision of children during sleep need to be fully trained in safe sleep practices and aware of what to do if something goes wrong. Safe sleep policies and procedures also need to be regularly reviewed to make sure they accurately reflect the practices that are occurring day-to-day.


Last modified: 7/10/21

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