As noted earlier, it is possible to provide this. But since so many of us have encountered barriers in trying to do so, I decided to contact some of the people who have managed it. So far, I’ve heard from Ned Markosian about how he did it at Bellingham.
The main thing I have done as BSPC organizer is to find local babysitters for visiting families. And a variation on that was to help several visiting families with similarly aged kids join up to form a babysitting co-op, with childcare provided by a combination of the parents and a babysitter that I found for them.
The problem of finding babysitters was perhaps easier for me to solve than it would have been if my circumstances had been different. But with kids of my own, I was able in some years to secure super good, super reliable babysitters that we had been using ourselves. More importantly, my own children had gone through the campus pre-school. In the short term that was helpful because I was very familiar with the student workers (early childhood education students at my university who were working at the pre-school), and could choose someone well-suited for the visiting family. (The pre-school here is a co-op, so I was spending several hours a week there myself, which meant that I got to observe the student workers in action.) And being connected with the campus pre-school has been really helpful in the long term because my wife and I are now friendly with several of the teachers there, and I can just call them up and say, “I have someone coming in with a three-year-old, who is looking for XYZ, do you have someone you would recommend?”
So I guess I would say that the main obstacle is establishing a connection with someone who knows a lot of highly qualified babysitters. That was easy in my case because of my own kids, but it wouldn’t take too much effort to go and talk to the people at the campus pre-school, in order to build connections that way.
Besides helping parents to organize childcare co-ops and find babysitters, one other thing that has worked out here is helping a family to get a kid placed in the campus pre-school for the week. I don’t remember anyone saying that insurance or anything else was an obstacle to that. (But that has been the exception rather than the norm, I think, because it turns out that most parents prefer to work out an arrangement with just one caregiver, and with flexible hours that may include evening hours.)
One other thing is that we have made sure that the atmosphere at the conference is such that it feels normal for there to be kids in the room as we are having our sessions. This year there were several instances of a parent asking a question while holding a 3-month-old in his or her arms.
I would really like to see more conferences becoming child-friendly!
I followed up by asking about where the babysitting took place:
The childcare took place wherever the parents and sitter agreed it should take place. In practice, at this conference, that has meant: at various outdoor venues, both on campus and off. University campuses are usually great places to be roaming around with children, since they are totally pedestrian-friendly. And Bellingham happens to be a park-crazy town, so that works out well. But I guess it is a huge advantage in this regard that my conference takes place in the summer, in a locale that almost always has extremely pleasant weather at this time of year.
Obviously, not all of Ned’s options will be available to all of us, but I’m sure they’ll be helpful to some!