A sick child. An unexpected snow day. A no-show babysitter. In short, you need to be at work, and there’s no one to care for your child.
These situations call for emergency child care. Referred to as back-up care, such alternative provisions are essential to minimize stress, anxiety and work hours missed when regularly-scheduled plans are interrupted. And if there’s one thing winter weather in Nashville guarantees, even without snow, it’s school closings!
Be Proactive, Plan Ahead
Think ahead and plan accordingly so the unexpected becomes the expected, and the least amount of disruption occurs. Review possible scenarios, know your options and write down alternative plans. Be thorough, including contact names and important child-care information for your alternate provider. Keep all information in an easily accessible folder marked “back-up care.”
Two-parent families should discuss work schedules and decide who can stay home and under what circumstances. Don’t overlook the possibility of agreeing to morning and afternoon shifts so neither has to miss a full day.
For Aimee and Richard Smith, working parents of daughters, ages 4 and 9, winter in Williamson County definitely requires a backup plan.
“I find school closes more often than day care, especially due to the weather,” says Aimee. In past situations of inclement weather, Smith would leave her school-age child at her younger daughter’s day care.
“Because she was a sibling and had previously attended as a student, this option was available. We felt it was appropriate since she was familiar with the staff.”
Now, Smith says their back-up plan includes splitting up the day at home; one of them taking vacation if their office remains open; or, because they have family nearby, they rely on grandparents.
Like the Smiths, parents should consult employers and clarify what company policy allows. Ask questions. Can I bring my child to work and under what circumstances? Is there a facility on- or off-site for emergency care? If yes, is there a cost? Can I use personal leave or sick time, or do I have to use vacation? Can I work from home or is “flex-time” possible? In today’s work environment, many employers allow work-from-home days. If this option is discussed with your boss ahead of time, the possibility becomes more likely.
Alternative Child Care
When Smith consulted her employer, she was pleased to learn about TodayCare Children’s Center, another alternative under her employee benefits plan.
“We can be described as the emergency room of child care,” comments Laura Hazlip, director and certified child life specialist at TodayCare Children’s Center in downtown Nashville.
Unlike traditional drop-ins, TodayCare is nationally-accredited and licensed by the state human services agency, and it offers care for sick children to member clients and the public. “We’re available on snow days, teacher in-service days and even when your child has a fever. We’re a creature unto ourselves, especially since I’m not aware of another center locally offering sick care.”
The center, licensed for 40 children, cares for mildly-ill and well children in separate rooms. The staff, which includes a registered nurse, cares for children between 3 months and 12 years.
Typically sold as an employee benefit, the center is available to employees of 35 clients, including HCA, St. Thomas Health Services, AmSouth Bank and KraftCPAs PLLC. The employer subsidizes the cost, and employees pay approximately $10 per day.
“It’s a wonderful benefit because AmSouth does make up the difference,” comments Amy Green, human resources manager at AmSouth Bank, and mother of a 3-year-old. “If not for TodayCare, my husband and I would have missed quite a bit of work, since we’re not originally from here and don’t have family in the area.”
According to the National Association for Sick Child Daycare (NASCD), each day more than 350,000 children younger than 14 with working parents are too sick to attend school. As a result, working mothers are absent five to 29 days per year, and it costs employers $2 to $12 billion annually.
“Most of our employees are working mothers and fathers,” says Marlene Akin, area human resources manager at AmSouth Bank. “So TodayCare is really a tremendous benefit that fits well with our values and who we are. It’s the right thing to do, and honestly, it gets employees back to work and back on the payroll.”
While client companies defray the overall cost for employees, individual families pay $130 a day. Hazlip admits it’s not necessarily economical, but sometimes necessary for those who are new in town and without family. To reduce the cost, families can purchase visits in packages of eight or 20.
Employees and families requiring TodayCare services should call 250-2600 as soon as they think they need care. “The more notice, the more guarantee we can give,” says Hazlip. A “NightCall” line is available at the same number after hours for a sick child or expected snow day reservations. Hazlip suggests making a reservation even if there’s a remote possibility of needing it. As long as it’s cancelled by 7:30 a.m. on the scheduled day, there’s no penalty.
At-home Child Care
In the ideal situation, a parent stays home when a child is sick. Such an argument is harder to make for snow days, holidays, teacher in-services and spring break. It’s important to line up back-ups, especially if something like TodayCare is not an option.
Keep a list of relatives, friends and babysitters who agree to be a part of your plan. Relatives are usually the most trusted – and affordable – option. Consider friends who work part-time, from home or not at all. If they have children, offer to watch their child on the weekend in exchange.
If you decide to use a sitter or nanny service, check references and use good judgment. The best-case scenario is to choose someone you trust and your child feels comfortable around. Whoever you use, be sure to discuss expectations.
To meet ever-increasing demands of parents’ busy schedules, not to mention life’s unexpected interruptions, drop-in centers are increasingly common for children between the ages of 6 weeks and 12 years. Many, such as The Children’s Playroom in Belle Meade, are licensed for business, inspected by both the fire and health departments and require infant and child CPR certification for all employees.
“We like to refer to ourselves as childcare by the hour by people you can trust,” comments Mark Langham, owner of The Children’s Playroom.
Open seven days a week with extended weekend hours, drop-in centers also provide an alternative to regularly-scheduled care, especially on snow days. “We make every effort to stay open in these situations because it’s when we know parents will need us the most,” says Langham. “On a snow day, we come in an hour early at 7 a.m. and accommodate as many as 50 children, making sure our ratios are competitive with current three-star standards.”
For an hourly fee of $7 for the first child and $2.50 for each additional child, parents can use The Children’s Playroom as a means of backup care. “It’s an excellent alternative,” says Langham. “Initially, you might think we’re a last alternative until you visit. We keep a clean, safe, orderly center and the environment is completely open, so care is easily visible by parents.” Langham adds that while the environment is open, it is secured by locked doors through which parents are buzzed in and out.
Day-Care Centers and Community Programs
Don’t overlook the possibility of help just around the corner in your own neighborhood. Some day-care centers, community programs and local churches include drop-in services. Contact the Tennessee Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) for a list of day cares in your zip code.
The YMCA offers special programs such as Fun Company, Teen Center and Skate Park to assist with backup care. Some programs don’t require membership. For more information about what your YMCA offers, call 259-YMCA or visit www.ymcamidtn.org.
Having a child guarantees life will throw a curve ball or two to keep you on your toes. This winter, stay ahead of the curve and be prepared for the next time it freezes and you’re without child care. With a plan already on file, you might be tempted to hum “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”
Stacie Stanley is a freelance writer who resides in Middle Tennessee.
The Children’s Playroom
5133 Harding Pike, Nashville
Just Like Home for Kids
7061B Moores Lane, Brentwood
330 Franklin Road, Ste. 246B, Brentwood
209 South Royal Oaks Blvd., Ste. 184
Child-care Resource and Referral
Davidson County: 963-7079
Williamson and Rutherford Counties: 866-446-6006
For a listing of community child-care services available in the Middle
Tennessee area, The 32nd Vanderbilt University Child & Family Policy Center’s Community Services Directory, can be viewed online. Visit www.vucsdirectory.org and in the category section, click on “child care.”