November 2, 2012

Child care challenge: what to do with sick kids?

2 minutes
Advice for host families

As the weather gets colder, my toddler son seems to have a runny nose, cough or other ailment at least every other week.  Even though he is not in daycare, each day he participates in activities from sing-alongs, to play groups, and interacts with other toddlers.  We do our best to encourage him to wash his hands before each meal and when coming back from being outside the house by singing his favorite songs as he soaps his hands.  But even so, it appears to be an unwinnable battle against a constant barrage of germs, viruses and bacteria.
Luckily the nanny we share with another family must have built up immunity over the years to all the bugs the boys bring home.  She is also OK with taking care of sick kids.  When a trip to the doctor is necessary or a fever is involved, I’m lucky enough to work for Cultural Care Au Pair which offers a generous sick leave policy and I can even work from home occasionally if necessary.
However, many families face a difficult choice when their children are sick.  Most daycares will not allow sick children and many other child care providers prefer not to care for sick kids.  On the work front, companies often allow only a few sick days per year.  Some parents don’t have any paid sick leave and may lose their pay–or worse–their jobs.
A report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health shows that 1 out of 3 parents are concerned about losing their jobs or their pay when they stay home to care for a sick child.  Furthermore, 31% of those polled said they didn’t have enough paid sick days to take care of their sick kids.  Just over a quarter of the respondents (26%) said they had missed three or more days of work in the last year for this reason.
Since it can be very difficult to find backup child care for a sick child, many parents factor in sick care coverage when deciding to use daycare or a nanny for child care. One of the benefits of au pairs and live-in nannies is that parents can rely on them for coverage when their children are ill.  On the other hand, daycare centers tend to be the strictest about excluding sick children and family daycares vary based on the provider.
It was definitely something I considered when evaluating our child care needs. With my husband traveling often for work, I knew that the brunt of sick-kid duty would fall to me.  Similarly, single parents are harder hit when their kids fall ill.
Parents have found creative ways to deal with this issue, from calling in the help of a grandparent, to asking for favors from their neighbors.  And, as the director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health says, until there is a broader “national discussion about the importance of providing workers with the tools they need to be productive, but also care for their little ones when they are not feeling well,” we parents are left to fend for ourselves.
As a working parent, what do you do for child care when your child is sick?