What are my options when my child or childcare provider is ill?
Unfortunately, there aren't many options for emergency childcare, which may be another reason why so many parents dread it when their little one gets a fever, diarrhea, or stomach bug. Most childcare centers have fairly strict sick-child policies to prevent the spread of illness.
And your challenge is even greater if you use home daycare, a nanny, or relative care because when your caregiver gets sick, there are no substitute teachers like at a center.
Most backup options fall into two main categories: Finding someone else to take care of your child or staying home yourself. It helps to have a backup plan in place before you need it.
Find someone else
Ask about backup care when you do your initial childcare search. 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 ultimately not their responsibility. If so, ask to meet the backup provider ahead of time to make sure you're comfortable having this person care for your child.
If not, you could also:
- 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. "I actually moved across country to get the backup support of my sister and mother," says Susan Webb, who relocated from Boston to San Francisco.
- Try share care. If another family in your neighborhood uses nanny or relative care, try to arrange a childcare swap: They take your daughter when your nanny's sick, and you do the same for them. This can still work even if you don't have a nanny and your friends do – in this case, you pay their nanny when you need coverage and offer to babysit when they do.
- Call an agency. If you found your nanny through an agency, ask if they have a roster of emergency caregivers. Sometimes you may be able to find an agency near you that provides in-home care for sick children. This is often more expensive, 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. Check online to see if there's one near you. Like in-home care, this option tends to be costly, but some companies will subsidize the expense to keep 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, a sick-child center in Silicon Valley. 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 who's under the weather.
- Tap into your community. Your clergy 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 for this one and meet the person before leaving your child with her for the day.
Another option is to try an online service that connects parents with on-call sitters who often have first aid and CPR training, have references on file, and have gone through background checks.
Stay home yourself
No one can prepare for every situation. Inevitably, the day will come when your child is sick and you have no one to rely on but yourself or your partner. When this happens, you can:
- Work from home. Many employees have the option to telecommute now and then. As long as you can handle taking care of a sick child and getting your work done, this may be the best-case scenario.
- Take the day off. If you have enough paid time off available, this may end up being your only choice. If you don't, try to work out an arrangement with your boss. "My employer is very understanding and flexible," says one our site mom. "If I need to be out for 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 supervisor will do the same.
- Take turns with your partner. If your child's sick for a few days, you can trade days off or split up each day up between you. That's what Sylvia Shragge and her husband Jim, of Berkeley, California do. "We've always handled it the same way," she says. "Tag team! If our son 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."