KNOWING YOUR CHILDCARE PLANS
WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS WHEN EITHER MY CHILD OR CHILDCARE PROVIDER IS ILL?
Most backup options fall into two main categories: finding someone else to take care of your child or staying home yourself. Try to have some kind of backup plan in place before you need it. Some options:
FIND SOMEONE ELSE:
When you’re conducting your childcare search, ask about backup care up front. Ideally, your home daycare provider, relative, or nanny (or her agency) will have someone else lined up in case of an emergency, though it’s not ultimately their responsibility. If so, ask to meet her (or him) ahead of time so you’re comfortable having that person care for your child. If not, try to track down an alternate yourself. These suggestions may help:
ASK A RELATIVE. If you have a reliable relative nearby who doesn’t mind occasionally pitching in to care for a sick child, count yourself lucky. You may find yourself pledging your share of the family heirlooms to seal the deal, but if you can make it work, it’s worth it. “I actually moved across country to get the backup support of my sister and mother,” says Susan Webb, who just moved from Boston to San Francisco. “Okay, maybe that wasn’t the only reason – but it was a strong factor in our decision.”
TRY SHARE CARE. If another family in your neighborhood uses nanny or relative care, see if you can set up a swap: They’ll take your daughter when your nanny’s sick if you promise to do the same for them. Even if you don’t have a nanny and your friends do, this can still work – their nanny gets your money and they get your offer to babysit.
CALL AN AGENCY. If you found your nanny through an agency, ask if they have a roster of emergency caregivers. More rarely, you may be able to find an agency near you that provides in-home care for sick children. This will probably cost you an arm and a leg, but it may be worth it if you just can’t miss work.
TRACK DOWN SICK-CHILD CARE. A few hospitals and childcare centers specialize in caring for sick children; if your Yellow Pages list one near you, thank the childcare gods. Like in-home care, this option tends to be a little costly – Feeling Better, a sick-child center in Silicon Valley, charges $65 to $70 per day – but some companies will subsidize the expense to keep a key employee (you) from missing an important meeting or presentation.
“Parents can get in a full day of work knowing that their sick child is being cared for by nurses and getting the right medical treatment,” says Heather Luftman, director of Feeling Better. In some bigger cities, like San Francisco, you may also find company-subsidized centers that offer last-minute childcare for healthy kids. That can come in handy if it’s your caregiver – not your child – who’s under the weather.
TAP INTO YOUR COMMUNITY. Your clergyman and local community college may be good resources for alternate caregivers, says Ann Douglas in The Unofficial Guide to Childcare. The former may have a list of willing helpers on hand, and the latter may be able to refer you to reliable student nurses. Plan ahead on this one and meet the person before leaving your child with her for the day.
STAY HOME YOURSELF:
No one can plan for every situation. Inevitably, the day will come when you’re caught with a sick child and have no one to turn to but yourself or your partner. But like lining up a backup caregiver, this option has several variations:
TAKE THE DAY OFF. If you have enough sick / vacation days (or a personal day or two stashed away somewhere) and you can use them to care for your child, this may end up being your only choice. If you don’t have any more days left, see whether you can work out an arrangement with your boss. “My employer is very understanding and flexible,” says one BabyCenter mom. “If I need to be out a couple of days, I’m welcome to work extra hours during the week or come in on the weekend to make up time. That way I don’t have to use up my vacation and sick days.” See if your boss will do the same.
WORK FROM HOME. In today’s digital world, many employers allow their employees to telecommute now and then. As long as you’re sure you can handle taking care of a sick child and getting your work done, this may be the perfect solution.
TAKE TURNS WITH YOUR PARTNER. If your child’s sick for a few days, you can trade off days, or, like Sylvia Shragge and her husband, Jim, of Berkeley, California, split each day up between them. “We’ve always handled it the same way,” she says. “Tag team! If our son, Nick, is sick the night before, I’ll go into the office extra early, stay a few hours, and bring work home. Then Jim goes to his office.”
BUILD A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CHILD’S CAREGIVERS
Your work isn’t over just because you’ve found your dream preschool or daycare center. In fact, it’s only beginning. Your child’s caregivers are counting on you to keep up your end of the bargain – they keep your child safe and secure while you’re at work, and you agree not to take advantage of them.
“We’re a team,” says Elice Webster, founder and director of the Children’s Cultural Center of Marin in Sausalito, California. If it takes a village to raise your child, she says, your village consists primarily of your family, friends, and your child’s daycare center or preschool.
Some pointers on building a good relationship with your child’s caregivers:
Pick up your child on time. Emergencies do happen, and you’re bound to be late once in a while, but make every effort to be prompt. If you anticipate a delay early in the day, call the center or provider. “Caregivers have lives, too,” says Webster, and when you’re late, you make them late for their own appointments. She says teachers may have kids of their own that they must pick up on time.
Turn in all necessary paperwork. Even before your child attends his first day of school you’ll need to submit a bunch of documents such as immunization records and medical health release forms. State law mandates that all centers comply with this law, so help your center out and hand in forms on time.
During the school year you’ll need to sign permission slips for field trips or authorizing teachers to give your child medications, such as antibiotics for an ear infection. Sign these right away and turn them in.
Bring up any problems immediately with the preschool director or the lead teacher. “It’s really the most efficient way to get problems addressed,” says Webster. “You’re doing me a favor when you point out a blind spot in my operation.”
Read all notices and mail you get from the center. When you see a sheaf of papers in your child’s cubby, don’t toss it in the recycling bin. You might miss out on valuable information about school closings, field trips, or special events. “It’s not junk mail,” says Ron Lynch, owner of two daycare centers in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “We try to keep you abreast of all activities we’d like you to participate in.” While you’re at it, check the bulletin board at the school for other announcements.
Attend all mandatory meetings, and if you’re unavailable for emergency reasons, let the staff know. Whether it’s a parent-teacher conference or a special workshop on discipline, your center recommends events like these because the staff truly feels parents will benefit from them. And school events are a great way to meet other parents who’ll gladly trade tantrum stories and playdates.
Make sure your child has all the supplies she needs. Keep extra clothes in her cubby in case of spills and potty accidents. If your child comes home wearing the spare clothing, make sure you bring a fresh set the next day. If your child’s class is doing a special art project, be sure she has the tools she needs.
Report any illnesses to your center or preschool. Germs travel fast among children. The caregiver needs to know if your baby has been exposed to any highly contagious disease such as pinkeye or chicken pox, or a more common ailment such as a cold or cough. “Anything contagious has to be reported because we spread the word to other parents,” says Lynch.
Let caregivers know if your child needs extra care on a particular day. If your little one didn’t sleep well the night before, or your partner is away on a business trip and junior’s missing him, let the staff know. That way they’ll be able to give your child some extra TLC.
Let the staff know if your child’s routine will change on a given day. If grandma’s in town and wants to pick up your child in the afternoon, tell the caregiver. Centers and preschools are not allowed to release your child to anyone but you unless you give permission. If you’ll be picking up your baby early for a doctor’s appointment, let them know that, too.
And of course, pay your fees when they’re due. It’s only fair. Don’t get caught with a zero bank balance when it comes time to write your center a check. It’s bad form to keep them waiting for your payment.