Child care at philosophy conferences

It *is* possible after all. Esa tells us that participants at the ESPP conference received an email reading as follows:

since we want to have familyfriendly conditions at our meeting, we managed to offer childcare during the ESPP 2010. Given the constraints we can offer childcare at the campus in Bochum on Friday from 9 a.m. to 4.15 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The leader of the childcare is a professional person applied by the university which will be supported by some experienced persons depending on the number of kids. The room for childcare is in the same building as the meeting, i.e.Veranstaltungszentrum der Ruhr-Universität Bochum, just two floors up and can be easily accessed.

Kids are accepted from the age of 12 month onwards up to 12 years.

We offer the following rule:
– students can use the childcare for free
– non-students have to pay: 5 Euro per hour (or 20 Euro for the whole day).

Awesome! Let’s hope it inspires others.

17 thoughts on “Child care at philosophy conferences

  1. This is great – and it should be standard. I was supposed to conduct interviews for my department at the Eastern APA in Philadelphia in 2008, and called the child care phone number given by the APA. (My daughter had to come along since she was still breast feeding). Turned out it was the number to the agency that distributes full-time day care spots in the Philadelphia area. The woman I talked to had never even heard of the APA and could not remember entering into any kind of agreement with the organization.

    In the end, our search was cancelled, and we were spared the trip, but the experience left me dumbfounded at the gall of the APA – pretending to be offering child care while listing a completely useless phone number.

    Later I have had excellent experiences with individual organizers – at a workshop at UNC Chapel Hill this spring the organizers sent out a request to their graduate students on my behalf, and my daughter ended up spending a great weekend with her sitter and her husband. They even took my daughter strawberry picking – in April! Now she wants more conferences.

  2. As someone who has helped organize conferences (not philosophy ones), I’ve got a few pieces of advice on this. Your mileage may vary:

    1. Make sure the conference organizers understand that there is a demand for childcare. Not in the sense of telling them it is important from an equal access point of view, but in the sense of having attendees who need childcare contact them well in advance so they know that it will actually be used and what the demand is likely to be.

    2. Be prepared to pay. Many US universities, for example, will insist that childcare on site be done only by licensed professionals for liability reasons. They may also require that the providers carry their own insurance. This position is probably not negotiable, and may even be written policy. While childcare workers are underpaid in the greater scheme of things, setting up childcare for a conference is expensive. They are more likely to be willing to do it if they know attendees will commit in advance to paying for it.

    3. Consider doing it as a cooperative arrangement between attendees, offsite, to avoid entanglements as in (2).

    4. Be aware that if you get them to do it, and nobody uses it, you will probably never see it at that conference again.

  3. I’d modify what you’re saying just slightly, J-Bro. I’d suggest that conference organisers do what the folks at Bellingham (comment 2) did: put on their website that parents should email if they need childcare. I imagine at this point most parents don’t bother asking any more, so it’s hard to assess demand unless you explicitly indicate a willingness to arrange it.

  4. @Jender: I think that’s reasonable, but I can see where conference organizers would hesitate to do it if they didn’t have a clear path to actually providing the service if it turns out there’s a demand. Especially if they’re only getting the full picture right before the conference and won’t have time to react to it.

    What I’d probably suggest there is, if the organizers aren’t taking it on already, to suggest that they poll for demand in one year, and then if they discover sufficient demand exists, agree to do it the following year.

  5. hmm… requesting childcare sounds like a great idea if you’re, say, an invited speaker or a full professor; that is, if you’re quite senior. but those of us who are not would simply, i suspect, get a reputation for being a pain in the arse if we went round requesting childcare whenever we wanted to go to a conference. -we would be laughed at, and wouldn’t get any childcare.

    i know it’s not my place to say, but i may i suggest that, if senior women (or men, for that matter) in philosophy want to really make a difference, rather than simply talking about differences being made, then they should be requesting things like this, even if they don’t strictly need it. because if they requested it, we all would get it.

  6. J-Bro: I don’t see any reason to delay a year. It would work just fine to say “anyone who wants childcare let me know by date X” so that we know what arrangements to make.

    ELP: I would think a request like the above would be enough to make junior people feel OK about saying “yes, please”. I also agree that senior people should be pushing conference organisers to do this.

  7. yes, if organisers made such a request, then maybe so. yes yes. but the idea of simply writing them and saying ‘hi, i’d like to come to your conference and will require childcare’ out of the blue would be, i think, professionally foolish. (and i do still think, even if the sort of request you mention is posted by conference organisers, one could still argue that senior people ought to be taking it up, for the sake of precedent-setting.)

  8. Do you mean people without kids? That seems like a mistake, since it would lead to booking of unnecessary childcare workers and perhaps a too-large space. Perhaps the suggestion should be that senior people should suggest to conference organisers that they should arrange childcare?

    I’m planning to write to people who have organised childcare at conferences to find out how they did it. Then I’ll do a blog post with their advice. Then senior people (and anyone else) can direct conference organisers to a handy how-to post. That’s the plan, anyway.

  9. no, i think senior people with children should ask for it and use it. i also think it’s great for conference organisers to know how to arrange it, and to do so. i totally agree. but i think there needs to be a change in what senior attendees do–otherwise it just won’t be ‘the done thing’ to use it even if it’s available, which means making it available won’t become standard. if you see what i mean.

  10. OK, I see. I think I was failing to understand because I was assuming senior and junior people with kids would be equally thrilled at the possibility of childcare, and equally likely to jump at the chance to use it.

  11. i don’t know. i think (women especially) who are senior have been able to become so because, to some extent, anyway, they’ve found their own way round these sorts of problems. -the ones who don’t are the ones who are likely to drop out before reaching professor, etc. so, i think there’s a real worry about who (amongst women) has the power and who has the need: those two groups may have little overlap.

  12. Hmm… My impression from talking to women who are senior is that for those with kids childcare *at conferences* is still a huge need. They’ve sorted what to do when they’re home, but they still need the childcare at conferences. But it’s also true that there are lots of senior women without kids.

  13. This may serve both as a model for some kinds of childcare arrangements, and as a shout-out to places that are really working on improving opportunities for women in philosophy to fully participate.

    I spent a month of this summer visiting at the Center for the Study of Mind in Nature at the University of Oslo, a very interesting place, especially in early summer, for anyone working in philosophy of mind/cogsci/language/etc. with a naturalistic bent. I did not receive a stipend, but CSMN actually offered me fulltime childcare for the entire month. The Norwegian govt has some kind of affiliation with a temporary-nanny service – they screen people and hire them, and the nannies are then available at set rates for shorter term work, like a month or even a week or two.

    The Center interviewed the woman who nannied for us on our behalf, and although I was initially rather skeptical about just handing my kid over to some random person, it turned out to be a really positive arrangement. The nanny was fantastic, she and my daughter had a great time, and my husband (also in philosophy) and I were able to work for the month, which included attending several conferences there.

    The only catch with arrangements like this is that they are expensive – a one-on-one nanny for a month is not cheap, esp. in Oslo, and we would not have been able to do this on our own. But Norway, and the University, are very serious about reducing barriers to participation by women, and I would not otherwise have gotten to attend the conferences, for instance, which were great.

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