The ABCs of Back-Up Child Care
by Kathy Sena
You’ve got this child-care thing down. Your four year old loves
preschool, you have a part-time babysitter for your toddler and your
third grader is happily breezing through school. Then something happens.
Your preschool director decides to shut down the school with less than
two days’ notice (as ours recently did); your babysitter gets sick; your
third grader forgets to tell you about that teacher in-service day. And
your boss is demanding the XYZ project by 3 p.m. Wednesday — or else.
What do you do? First, don’t wait for the inevitable to happen before
making back-up child-care plans, say experienced parents. Start planning
Beef up your network
On the Monday after our preschool closed, my friend Judith (hereafter
known as “Saint Judith”), already juggling two preschoolers and a
home-based business, volunteered to watch four additional kids so other
parents could go to work. In return, those parents have come to her aid
on other days. To minimize crisis-mode stress, work out such
arrangements with friends in advance.
Consider sharing child care
Occasionally sharing a babysitter or nanny with another family, which we
did for a few weeks after our preschool went kaput, can benefit
everyone. The kids have a play date, the caregiver appreciates the extra
income and you don’t have to miss work. Just make sure all parties are
satisfied with the agreement.
Check with referral agencies
Child Care Aware (800-424-2246) can help you find a local preschool or
child-care center. (At carefinder.com, I typed in my zip code and got a
list of 18 nearby preschools. Not bad.) The site also encourages parents
to comment on their experience with specific child-care providers. The
National Child Care Information Center offers a helpful
checklist of questions to ask when visiting child-care centers.
Plan ahead for sick days
While every parent would prefer to be home when a child is sick, it’s
good to know there are caring options available in a pinch. Check with
your pediatrician or local hospital for a referral for sick-child day
care. Many hospitals now have such facilities. The National Association
of Sick Child Daycare, a professional organization for the industry,
offers some great links to consumer information on this growing area of
child care. Just go to www.nascd.com and click on “related links.”
Keep safety in mind
In the rush to find appropriate child care when you’re pressed for time,
make sure you don’t give safety issues the brush-off. Always check
references for care providers. And check your list of potential
preschools, child-care centers or in-home care providers with your local
Also, remember to check for safety hazards. According to the U.S.
Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 31,000 children ages 4 years
and younger were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for injuries
that happened in child-care or school settings in 1997. In a recent
national study, CPSC staff visited a number of child-care settings and
found that two-thirds of them had one or more potentially serious
hazards. The CPSC suggests checking the following:
- CRIBS — Make sure cribs meet current national safety standards and
are in good condition. Look for a certification safety seal. Older cribs
may not meet current standards. Crib slats should be no more than 2 3/8
inches apart, and mattresses should fit snugly.
- SOFT BEDDING — Be sure that no pillows, soft bedding or comforters
are used where babies are sleeping. A baby should be put to sleep on her
back in a crib with a firm, flat mattress.
- PLAYGROUND SURFACING AND MAINTENANCE— Look for safe surfacing on
outdoor playgrounds; at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or
pea gravel, or mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like
Check playground surfacing and equipment regularly to make sure they are
maintained in good condition.
- SAFETY GATES — Be sure that safety gates are used to keep children
away from potentially dangerous areas, especially stairs.
- WINDOW BLINDS AND CURTAIN CORDS — Be sure miniblinds and venetian
blinds do not have looped cords. Check that vertical blinds, continuous
looped blinds and drapery cords have tension or tie-down devices to hold
the cords tight.
- RECALLED PRODUCTS - Check that no recalled products are being used and
that a current list of recalled children's products is readily visible.
Displaying a list of recalled products will remind caretakers and
parents to remove or repair potentially dangerous children's toys and
Guide to child care options
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Sick day savvy: Take care of your career and your child
Kathy Sena is a freelance writer who frequently covers family issues.