Did you know that 1 in 55 children are estimated to have a peanut allergy? (Food Standards Agency, 2016.). With a figure like this for just peanuts it is likely that if we haven’t already, we will have experience of children in our settings with a nut allergy. For some, a reaction to exposure to nuts can be mild. For others, coming into contact with a nut can have serious consequences. It is, therefore, vital that robust measures are in place to minimise the risk to any child with a nut allergy. Websites such as the Anaphylaxis Campaign website are a really useful source of information and guidance.
Many settings take a straight forward approach and communicate to staff, children and parents that they are a nut free zone! It is simple to think that banning nuts in a setting would be easy and would ensure that any child with a nut allergy would be safe. However, with the wide range of possible allergens in settings (milk, nuts, egg, wheat to name but a few), it may not be practical to ban them all. A complete ban could give a false sense of safety. Given that there are so many products containing nuts, can we ever guarantee that there will never be a nut on the premises? Settings should think very carefully when labelling themselves ‘nut free.’ Consider whether it is as relevant to be a ‘nut aware’ setting with robust policies and procedures in place, to minimise the risk of exposure to nuts, making your setting safer for those with an allergy. With everyone aware of how this is monitored.
As soon as parents inform you that their child has a serious allergy, it is vital that you all meet to discuss provision for the child and work together to put plans in place to minimise any risk of exposure to the allergen. Making sure that you are clear of the signs and symptoms of any adverse reaction and the required response. A recorded allergy plan/risk assessment will ensure that any risks are identified, procedures and actions to minimise these risks are agreed and that parents are very clear about what exactly staff can and cannot do. Regularly reviewing this plan with the parents is not only a statutory requirement but will facilitate good communication and can provide the opportunity to plan for upcoming events that might require adjusted arrangements or specific measures put in place to manage risks (such as a PTA cake sale.)
‘3.47. Where children are provided with meals, snacks and drinks, they must be healthy, balanced and nutritious. Before a child is admitted to the setting the provider must also obtain information about any special dietary requirements, preferences and food allergies that the child has, and any special health requirements. …. Providers must record and act on information from parents and carers about a child's dietary needs.’ Ofsted 2017, Early Years foundation Stage Statutory Framework 2017.
School trips and special events will require extra thought and care. No child should be excluded from events due to severe allergies but any possible risks need to be minimised. Reviewing the allergy plan with parents prior to the event will ensure that all aspects are considered and measures to minimise the risk are put in place. Cooking activities can present very real risks to a child with a nut allergy but careful preparation and planning should ensure that all children can be included. It goes without saying that it is important to read all food labels of any ingredient intended to be used. Robust hygiene practices should already be in place regarding hand washing, the cleaning of surfaces used and equipment are important, especially if the area is a shared space, to ensure that any residue of potential allergens are removed prior to use. This is particularly pertinent for those settings based in a community venue with kitchen areas used by others.
All staff supporting any child should be made aware of the nut allergy and be familiar with the agreed procedures. Consider how and when this information will be communicated to new members of staff, temporary staff and volunteers. Sharing the allergy action plan/risk assessment as part of staff induction would ensure that all staff are allergy aware and that information is passed on. Including a sentence in any safeguarding guidance read prior to signing in will ensure that all visitors to the building are aware of any severe allergies. Posters can easily become wallpaper and cannot be relied upon for effective information sharing. It would be all too easy for a volunteer or a supply member of staff to come on site with a peanut butter sandwich or snickers bar in their pocket oblivious to the danger it could present.
All staff supporting at mealtimes need to be aware of children with a nut allergy. Staff should remind children not to share any food brought from home when bringing a packed lunch. In schools, children with a severe nut allergy might be best placed next to those having a school dinner as this will minimise the risk of exposure to nuts inadvertently brought in from home. Cleaning a designated table thoroughly, prior to the child eating there, can minimise cross contamination with any allergens.
With the permission of the family it would be appropriate to share information on the severity of the allergy with other parents and children, it’s not necessary to name the child but the allergy and reason for any requests regarding the measures you need to put in place. It would be advisable to request that parents refrain from sending their own children into the setting with foodstuffs containing nuts either for lunchtime or in treats for birthdays.
Identified staff members should receive training on how to administer emergency medication and measures should be in place to ensure that there is ALWAYS someone on site who is accessible in the event of a reaction. Training can be delivered by health visitors or school nurses. Anaphylaxis Campaign offer free on-line training for staff working with children with allergies. Consider including this as part of any induction programme.
'3.45. Providers must have and implement a policy, and procedures, for administering medicines. It must include systems for obtaining information about a child’s needs for medicines, and for keeping this information up-to-date. Training must be provided for staff where the administration of medicine requires medical or technical knowledge.’ Early Years Foundation Stage Statutory Frameworks 2017.
There is no way of guaranteeing that a child with a severe allergy will never come into contact will an allergen. However, by educating staff, children and parents, the risks can be minimised considerably and you can make your setting as safe as possible.
The full Early Years foundation Stage Statutory Framework 2017 document is available to download from: