Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 3: Health Promotion and Protection

3.6 Management of Illness

3.6.3 Medications Medication Administration

The administration of medicines at the facility should be limited to:

  1. Prescription or non-prescription medication (over-the-counter [OTC]) ordered by the prescribing health professional for a specific child with written permission of the parent/guardian. Written orders from the prescribing health professional should specify medical need, medication, dosage, and length of time to give medication;
  2. Labeled medications brought to the child care facility by the parent/guardian in the original container (with a label that includes the child’s name, date filled, prescribing clinician’s name, pharmacy name and phone number, dosage/instructions, and relevant warnings).

Facilities should not administer folk or homemade remedy medications or treatment. Facilities should not administer a medication that is prescribed for one child in the family to another child in the family.

No prescription or non-prescription medication (OTC) should be given to any child without written orders from a prescribing health professional and written permission from a parent/guardian. Exception: Non-prescription sunscreen and insect repellent always require parental consent but do not require instructions from each child’s prescribing health professional.

Documentation that the medicine/agent is administered to the child as prescribed is required.

“Standing orders” guidance should include directions for facilities to be equipped, staffed, and monitored by the primary care provider capable of having the special health care plan modified as needed. Standing orders for medication should only be allowed for individual children with a documented medical need if a special care plan is provided by the child’s primary care provider in conjunction with the standing order or for OTC medications for which a primary care provider has provided specific instructions that define the children, conditions and methods for administration of the medication. Signatures from the primary care provider and one of the child’s parents/guardians must be obtained on the special care plan. Care plans should be updated as needed, but at least yearly.

Medicines can be crucial to the health and wellness of children. They can also be very dangerous if the wrong type or wrong amount is given to the wrong person or at the wrong time. Prevention is the key to prevent poisonings by making sure medications are inaccessible to children.

All medicines require clear, accurate instruction and medical confirmation of the need for the medication to be given while the child is in the facility. Prescription medications can often be timed to be given at home and this should be encouraged. Because of the potential for errors in medication administration in child care facilities, it may be safer for a parent/guardian to administer their child’s medicine at home.

Over the counter medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can be just as dangerous as prescription medications and can result in illness or even death when these products are misused or unintentional poisoning occurs. Many children’s over the counter medications contain a combination of ingredients. It is important to make sure the child isn’t receiving the same medications in two different products which may result in an overdose. Facilities should not stock OTC medications (1).

Cough and cold medications are widely used for children to treat upper respiratory infections and allergy symptoms. Recently, concern has been raised that there is no proven benefit and some of these products may be dangerous (2,3,5). Leading organizations such as the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have recommended restrictions on these products for children under age six (4-7).

If a medication mistake or unintentional poisoning does occur, call your local poison center immediately at 1-800-222-1222.

Parents/guardians should always be notified in every instance when medication is used. Telephone instructions from a primary care provider are acceptable if the caregiver/teacher fully documents them and if the parent/guardian initiates the request for primary care provider or child care health consultant instruction. In the event medication for a child becomes necessary during the day or in the event of an emergency, administration instructions from a parent/ guardian and the child’s prescribing health professional are required before a caregiver/teacher may administer medication.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Sun Safety Including Sunscreen Insect Repellent and Protection from Vector-Borne Diseases Information Required for Children Who Are Ill Labeling, Storage, and Disposal of Medications
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Drugs. 2009. Policy statement: Acetaminophen toxicity in children. Pediatrics 123:1421-22.
  2. Schaefer, M. K., N. Shehab, A. Cohen, D. S. Budnitz. 2008. Adverse events from cough and cold medications in children. Pediatrics 121:783-87.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007. Infant deaths associated with cough and cold medications: Two states. MMWR 56:1-4.
  4. Consumer Healthcare Products Association. Makers of OTC cough and cold medicines announce voluntary withdrawal of oral infant medicines.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration. 2008. Public Health advisory: FDA recomends that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products not be used for infants and children under 2 years of age.
  6. Vernacchio, L., J. Kelly, D. Kaufman, A. Mitchell. 2008. Cough and cold medication use by U.S. children, 1999-2006: Results from the Slone Survey. Pediatrics 122: e323-29.
  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2008. AAP Urges caution in use of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. Labeling, Storage, and Disposal of Medications

Any prescription medication should be dated and kept in the original container. The container should be labeled by a pharmacist with:

  • The child’s first and last names;
  • The date the prescription was filled;
  • The name of the prescribing health professional who wrote the prescription, the medication’s expiration date;
  • The manufacturer’s instructions or prescription label with specific, legible instructions for administration, storage, and disposal;
  • The name and strength of the medication.

Over-the-counter medications should be kept in the original container as sold by the manufacturer, labeled by the parent/guardian, with the child’s name and specific instructions given by the child’s prescribing health professional for administration.

All medications, refrigerated or unrefrigerated, should:

  • Have child-resistant caps;
  • Be kept in an organized fashion;
  • Be stored away from food;
  • Be stored at the proper temperature;
  • Be completely inaccessible to children.

Medication should not be used beyond the date of expiration. Unused medications should be returned to the parent/guardian for disposal. In the event medication cannot be returned to the parent or guardian, it should be disposed of according to the recommendations of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (1). Documentation should be kept with the child care facility of all disposed medications. The current guidelines are as follows:

  1. If a medication lists any specific instructions on how to dispose of it, follow those directions.
  2. If there are community drug take back programs, participate in those.
  3. Remove medications from their original containers and put them in a sealable bag. Mix medications with an undesirable substance such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. Throw the mixture into the regular trash. Make sure children do not have access to the trash (1).
Child-resistant safety packaging has been shown to significantly decrease poison exposure incidents in young children (1).

Proper disposal of medications is important to help ensure a healthy environment for children in our communities. There is growing evidence that throwing out or flushing medications into our sewer systems may have harmful effects on the environment (1-3).

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Medication Administration Training of Caregivers/Teachers to Administer Medication
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2010. Disposal by flushing of certain unused medicines: What you should know.
  2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2009. Pharmaceuticals and personal care products as pollutants (PPCPs). http://www.epa
  3. Fiene, R. 2002. 13 indicators of quality child care: Research update. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Training of Caregivers/Teachers to Administer Medication

Any caregiver/teacher who administers medication should complete a standardized training course that includes skill and competency assessment in medication administration. The trainer in medication administration should be a licensed health professional. The course should be repeated according to state and/or local regulation. At a minimum, skill and competency should be monitored annually or whenever medication administration error occurs. In facilities with large numbers of children with special health care needs involving daily medication, best practice would indicate strong consideration to the hiring of a licensed health care professional. Lacking that, caregivers/teachers should be trained to:

  1. Check that the name of the child on the medication and the child receiving the medication are the same;
  2. Check that the name of the medication is the same as the name of the medication on the instructions to give the medication if the instructions are not on the medication container that is labeled with the child’s name;
  3. Read and understand the label/prescription directions or the separate written instructions in relation to the measured dose, frequency, route of administration (ex. by mouth, ear canal, eye, etc.) and other special instructions relative to the medication;
  4. Observe and report any side effects from medications;
  5. Document the administration of each dose by the time and the amount given;
  6. Document the person giving the administration and any side effects noted;
  7. Handle and store all medications according to label instructions and regulations.

The trainer in medication administration should be a licensed health professional: Registered Nurse, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), MD, Physician’s Assistant, or Pharmacist.

Administration of medicines is unavoidable as increasing numbers of children entering child care take medications. National data indicate that at any one time, a significant portion of the pediatric population is taking medication, mostly vitamins, but between 16% and 40% are taking antipyretics/analgesics (5). Safe medication administration in child care is extremely important and training of caregivers/teachers is essential (1).

Caregivers/teachers need to know what medication the child is receiving, who prescribed the medicine and when, for what purpose the medicine has been prescribed and what the known reactions or side effects may be if a child has a negative reaction to the medicine (2,3). A child’s reaction to medication can be occasionally extreme enough to initiate the protocol developed for emergencies. The medication record is especially important if medications are frequently prescribed or if long-term medications are being used (4).

Caregivers/teachers need to know the state laws and regulations on training requirements for the administration of medications in out-of-home child care settings. These laws may include requirements for delegation of medication administration from a primary care provider. Training on medication administration for caregivers/teachers is available in several states. Model Child Care Health Policies, 2nd Ed. from Healthy Child Care Pennsylvania is available at and contains sample polices and forms related to medication administration.
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Medication Administration Labeling, Storage, and Disposal of Medications Written Policy on Use of Medications
Appendix AA: Medication Administration Packet
Appendix O: Care Plan for Children with Special Health Care Needs
  1. Heschel, R. T., A. A. Crowley, S. S. Cohen. 2005. State policies regarding nursing delegation and administration in child care settings: A case study. Policy, Politics, and Nursing Practice 6:86-98.
  2. Qualistar Early Learning. 2008. Colorado Medication Administration Curriculum. 5th ed.
  3. Fiene, R. 2002. 13 indicators of quality child care: Research update. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.
  4. Calder, J. 2004. Medication administration in child care programs. Health and Safety Notes. Berkeley, CA: California Childcare Health Program.
  5. Vernacchio, L., J. P. Kelly, D. W. Kaufman, A. A. Mitchell. 2009. Medication use among children <12 years of age in the United States: Results from the Slone Survey. Pediatrics 124:446-54.