Kids seem to only come down with an illness on the eve of a major deadline or presentation. Career moms know the sinking feeling caused by missing work with a sick child. Thankfully, sick child care centers are popping up to help.
It's every working mom's nightmare scenario, and it happens all the time. You have a huge deadline, presentation or court date that you simply can't miss. The night before the big day — even worse, in the morning as you're getting ready — your child comes to you and says, "Mommy, I don't feel good." A few coughs and a thermometer check later, you realize you're in a total bind.
Most moms in such a predicament have few options. They can either beg for help from a spouse who may also be in a bind, frantically call neighbors, load the kid up with Tylenol and hope for the best or cancel the presentation (and in doing so, a chance for a promotion). Since illness is a certainty when it comes to child rearing, it comes as no surprise that the threat of an illness is a constant stress in the lives of working women — particularly since backup plans are terribly limited and often last minute.
Thankfully, sick child care centers are growing in popularity. These centers provide nurse checks and child care for kids who are suffering from the most common ailments of childhood, like the cold virus, tummy bugs and even chicken pox. I spoke with Gail W. Johnson, R.N., M.S., and CEO of sick child care leader Rainbow Station to hear how sick child care centers are playing a vital role in the lives of parents and children.
Surprisingly, Johnson states sick child care centers have been around for decades. "I've been working in the sick child care industry for 25 years, and I constantly see ebbs and flows in the popularity of centers," she says. "Parents are already paying a lot for day care elsewhere, so they really can't pay much for sick child care. The most successful centers are those that are attached to a day care or hospital, so they can share costs and actually turn a profit." Although costs vary by center, Johnson reports that a rate of about $10 to $12 an hour is pretty typical.
The centers also rise and fall in popularity because parents are hesitant to try a sick child care center for the first time. "The biggest concern I hear from moms is guilt about sending their children to a sick child care center," reports Johnson. "Working moms often think, 'I'm already missing out on time with my kid by pursuing a career. What kind of mother am I if I take my sick children to a center instead of staying home with them?' To that, I say it's far more humane to drop your children off at a center where they'll receive medical services and rest than to drop them off at school with medicine and simply hope you can get your work done before the school calls to report a fever." Johnson adds that 70 to 90 percent of Rainbow Station's customers are repeat visitors, so parents who give sick child care centers a try usually find that the centers provide a vital support to the family.
Although there are no federal regulations for sick child care centers, Johnson adds that all of the centers she's researched follow similar guidelines for the care of sick kids. "There is always a nurse on staff, so the kids are routinely checked for symptoms and given medicine, if necessary. In my centers, we prevent cross-contamination by separating kids based on their type of illness and practicing universal precautions to prevent the spread of germs."
Rainbow Station has separate rooms for kids with respiratory illness, gastrointestinal illness, highly-contagious illnesses like chicken pox and a final room for kids who are recovering from an illness or surgery. "In all my years of doing this work," says Johnson, "I have yet to hear of a single case of cross-contamination. Our nurses — and the nurses in other centers — know how to prevent the spread of germs. The real risk of cross-contamination occurs when parents send their sick kids to school and the teacher is unaware of the germs floating through a classroom."
Unfortunately, sick child care centers can prove challenging to find. There are only 200 to 300 known U.S. centers, and most don't advertise heavily. "There isn't a national database for sick child care centers," says Johnson. "Parents really have to get creative to find one in their area."
If you're interested in finding a sick child care center near you, Johnson suggests calling your state's licensing board for day care centers, because they're often in the know for local options. She also suggests talking to your employer to determine if you have a pre-existing benefit for sick child care through your company. Finally, since over half of the sick child care centers in the U.S. are affiliated with a hospital, you can call around to your local hospitals to determine if they're associated with a sick child care center.
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