A reader writes:
I wanted to report something that I believe has cropped up in attempts to be at least somewhat helpful to people who need childcare in order to attend conferences.
As part of a conference I’m currently co-organising [at Scottish university], I asked the university admin person in charge of the registration site to include a part where people could report that they would possibly need childcare and express an interest in our helping them to find some. We made no promises about what we could provide but were intending to use university and local contacts in order to try and find suggestions and recommendations, thus saving would be attendees from blindly googling. Despite the university administrator initially being happy with this they then unilaterally removed this question, saying that we shouldn’t get involved in organising this. At the time I thought that this was just officiousness. Then someone else organising a conference (elsewhere) mentioned that they were not even allowed to recommend or point people in the direction of local childcare, on the grounds that this would make the university liable in case something went wrong.
There seem to be at least these two possibilities (I’ll leave aside the possibility that this is a convenient myth intended to reduce the workload for conference organisers):
(a) the university would be liable in such an event
(b) universities sincerely but falsely believe that they would be liable
Knowing which of (a) and (b) is true makes a big difference to how this obstacle to making conferences more family-friendly can be tackled. Sadly, I have literally zero expertise in this area but I thought it would be good if someone who does could advise whether, and when, universities would be liable in the event of something happening to a child in childcare that had *in some way* been suggested/recommended by the conference organiser.
I’m pleased to report that at my own UK university, the conference people will be including on their form for conference organisers a query about whether they’d like a “mobile creche”. If organisers want it, the university nursery will (for a fee) provide onsite childcare to all conferences held at our university. So I know that it is possible in the UK to do this. However, this is England, so there may be different laws. And of course universities my take different views of the law. Anyone else have information/anecdotes to offer?