Childcare at Conferences: How to do it (2)

This post is the second in what I hope will be a continuing series of posts in which conference organisers who have been able to arrange childcare for participants explain how they did it. (Here‘s the previous one.) If you or someone you know is organising a conference, they can come to this series for ideas. And if you’re trying to convince someone that it is possible after all to arrange childcare at conferences, you’ve now got a place to direct them!

Laurie Paul writes:

I have child care available at every conference I organize, and I explicitly encourage people to bring families. (Often, I am also able to arrange a discounted hotel rate for family members not participating in the conference.) There are two ways I’ve set up child care. The first way is to arrange for interested graduate students at my university to babysit, and the second way is to find a local, high quality child care service that has a register of sitters. Either way, I put everyone who is bringing children in touch with each other, and they arrange for small-group babysitting with the graduate student(s) or professional babysitters. It is easy, family-friendly, and gives the conference a great vibe.

The babysitting takes place in and around the conference venue: I only select venues that have a lot of activities for kids available (a beach, a dude ranch, local parks or a campus mall where kids can run around, etc.) I should also note that I think it is totally fine to have kids playing quietly in the back of the room while the paper is being discussed.

I followed up by asking whether liability or insurance concerns are ever raised about the childcare, since these are often cited as reasons not to try t provide it. Laurie responded:

I think liability concerns are only appropriate when the conference formally runs childcare. We do it by making it extremely easy for parents to hire babysitters themselves, and also for them to hire babysitters as a small group. So officially there is no liabiiity because the conference is not providing the sitter. Officially, it is the the parents who are hiring the grad students, or who are using the professional service.

Laurie noted also, in a follow-up, that one doesn’t need to have her fabulous venues in order to offer childcare:

A university setting that has green areas would be fine for the sort of arrangement I described–eg, it would work for something on campus here at UNC, and would have worked at Arizona too. Some campuses might not work well, but then the organizer should try and find another spot for the conference, or arrange with the parents for some sort of outing for the kids: for example, one parent and a couple of child minders take 4-5 kids to the zoo one day, a different parent goes with the kids and minders to a park the next. The parents usually work as a coop, and agree among themselves to share out responsibility. If there are 6 or 8 parents involved, it is very easy.

She also noted, however, that her fabulous venues are not so impossibly pricey as they might seem:

My venues are not as pricey as you might think. I negotiate prices so that all meals are included, so the overall cost ends up being about the price of an APA (or maybe even less!!) once you account for APA meals and registration. And it’s way more fun.

So now we’ve got the materials to make a feminist argument for holding conferences at beach resorts. What more could one want?

(More seriously: Since APAs are out of price range for many people, especially now, it probably is a good idea to consider the venue alternatives Laurie rightly mentions– trips to the park, etc.)

8 thoughts on “Childcare at Conferences: How to do it (2)

  1. Laurie wrote: “So officially there is no liability because the conference is not providing the sitter.”

    In the US, that reduces the liability but does not completely eliminate it; if the conference website or emails recommended the sitters they could still face some liability if something happens to someone’s kid as the result of sitter incompetence or misconduct. I’d use some disclaimer language “the conference does not endorse the sitters listed; it is up to parents to evaluate them” etc. Still won’t provide 100% protection but it’s a good idea.

  2. j-bro, there’s a conference coming up, put on by our department, and the organisers have decided last-minute (in part because this discussion makes clear that it’s possible) to try to help people out with childcare. (i doubt anyone will take it up, since it’s very last-minute, but i’m still pleased it’s happening.) the plan is to ask anyone who is in need of childcare to email, whereupon we will simply give them names/email addresses of postgrads with childcare experience who’re interested in babysitting. it’ll then be up to them to get in contact w one of these postgrads and work out an arrangement. still liability worries? (pretending we’re in the US, that is; assuming that UK laws will be similar.)

  3. I need to use the phrase “fabulous venues” more often.

    I get to use it a lot. Things like, “I never get invited to conferences at fabulous venues.” “Maybe someday I’ll get to go to some fabulous venues.” “Why does everyone else get to go to a workshop at a fabulous venue and I have to go to one at the holiday inn business center off the interstate?”, and things like that.

  4. If you invite someone to a conference, and their chair breaks as they sit down, the university might be liable. If they break their ankle on the steps leading to the department, the university might be liable. But this sort of liability is just part of having a conference. (Here’s another question: if you suggest a sitter to your neighbor, are you liable for anything that happens if your neighbor hires the sitter? I’m not sure I suppose.) Following J-Bro’s comment, I think it is very reasonable and prudent to ask parents to explicitly acknowledge that they are the people choosing and hiring the sitter, but I also think it is important to have a sense of perspective. (Consulting the university lawyer is also an option one might want to explore.)

  5. @eIp: I think that’s probably safe, and you could also add something like “this is a list of individuals who have expressed an interest in providing child care; we have not vetted them in any way”.

    @Laurie: you aren’t responsible in the sitter case unless you deliberately misrepresented something material to the neighbor, e.g. “I know the sitter has advanced first aid training” or “no, that rumor that he was convicted of child molestation is wrong”, or you omit something bad that you know about. Conference organizers, working on behalf of a university, could well be seen as endorsing the individuals they “recommend” so it’s wise to make it clear that you aren’t.

  6. I’m pretty sure that in the UK, there would be a legal requirement that the people running the childcare be “CRB checked”. This doesn’t make things impossible, but it does mean that you couldn’t just call on willing grad students. (I’d be very keen to hear an authoritative answer on this for the UK though, as I’m running a conference in July.)

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