Saturday, August 8, 2009

Baby in tow: Childcare

This has to be the single biggest issue that restricts female faculty participation in conferences. While some societies have made efforts in helping with this, it's few and far between...and expensive. I did not go to my "big" national society meeting this spring, mainly because of childcare issues.

Here are some possible options:
1. Bring someone with you. The most common version of this is bringing a spouse to the meeting. However, if your spouse has limited time off or you have other children at home (particularly those that are in school), this might not be an option. A grandparent is another person to ask, especially if they're retired and enjoy traveling. There may also be a college age niece, nephew, cousin or friend.

The disadvantage to bringing someone with you is paying for their plane ticket. If you're not comfortable sharing a room with them, you might also have to pay for their room, in addition to pay (if it's a hired babysitter). This option can get expensive.

2. Find someone there. I've done this both times I've brought a baby with me to a meeting. Though nerve wracking, it can be done. So how do you find someone there?

a) If you're lucky, the conference will provide a list of babysitters. These may be pricey (the last conference I went to with suggested baby sitters had an hourly fee of $20/hr!) but they've generally been bonded/certified/etc.

b) Drop in daycare centers. Many cities have drop in daycare centers. These are generally licensed, so they will meet state standards on child:provider ratios and general care. Bright Horizons offers drop in care in a variety of cities. You will need to call ahead and see if they take reservations, how often they fill up, what kinds of registration forms you need to fill out (preferably ahead of time), and what you need to provide for your child. The disadvantage is travelling between the childcare center and the conference can eat a significant part of your time.

c) University daycare centers The first confence I brought a baby to was at a university. I called the university daycare, and they happened to have a slot for the week I needed due to a vacation. If they don't have openings, they may have local providers they can recommend.

d) Private individuals. You can find one of these just like you would find one at home, though you have the distinct disadvantage of not being able to visit them in person or use word of mouth referrals. You will need to conduct an extensive phone interview and check references. A couple of possible ways of finding individuals include newspaper want ads, state licensed provider lists, and college student employment services.

This trip I had a college student watch Chiquita during the meeting. I could not have asked for a better alignment of the planets--a colleague sent a general e-mail on behalf of his daughter, who was looking for odd jobs before returning to the city where my conference is. She happened to be available, so I had the triple advantage of meeting her before I left, strong personal recommendations, and had great flexibility. At break times I would call and meet her, and I gave her the keys to my room so Chiquita could nap in a consistent setting.

e) Trying to do it yourself. Unless your baby is very young (less than four months) and is a good sleeper in a stroller/car seat/carrier, I would not recommend this option. You'll probably end up roaming the halls outside the speaker you really want to hear and end up either being a distraction or incredibly frustrated. It's also not fair to ask your students to watch the baby--that's not why they came to the meeting.

If you've brought a baby to a conference, what childcare solution did you find?

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