Childcare at Conferences: one way to do it

A reader writes:

I am currently running a small one-day conference, and our first announcements included the line:

> If you would like to attend but childcare duties render your attendance difficult, please email  by March 6th; the organisers hope to assist participants with childcare needs.

We hoped that by offering to offset childcare costs for participants we would make it easier for philosophers with childcare responsibilities to attend.

I earmarked $200 to meet childcare needs, with the following thought: if one person took up the offer, we would pay about 70-80% of their childcare costs. If two or three people contacted me, we would offset about 60% of their costs each. If four people contacted me, we would give them $50 each to offset their child-minding costs.

We would give participants this money, on receipt of a receipt by their child-minder, to remove some of the extra attendance costs they incur in virtue of being parents/guardians.

If more than four people contacted me — well, to be honest I didn’t have a plan for this scenario. Offering less than $50 each seems a bit insignificant when child-minding for a day (in our area) costs about $100-$120. But perhaps if more than four had contacted me we might have looked into hiring an on-site child-minder. Of course this can generate other technical/legal issues. Maybe I would have not given child-care money to anyone, or determined some criteria for giving money to some rather than others (i.e. lower income families rather than higher-income families). I was going to cross the more-than-four bridge only if we got there!

In writing the original sentence I wanted to maintain discretionary power; I didn’t want to promise money before knowing how many people would reply.

As it happened, no one contacted me to take up this offer.

The reason I am posting this information here is that some discussion of the idea might mean others consider doing something similar. Conference budgets often include food and drinks, and travel for the keynote. It would be nice if in the future philosophy conference budgets standardly included child-minding costs too.

Of course I was fortunate — my conference had $200 that I could earmark, and was small enough that I didn’t expect many people to respond to the offer. But perhaps some discussion at Feminist Philosophers might enable other people to do something similar?

2 thoughts on “Childcare at Conferences: one way to do it

  1. Perhaps you could have stated what you’ve said above on the announcement (we have $200 earmarked, and here is our rough plan of how we’ll divide it up) since potential participants might not have thought ‘assisting with needs’ meant financial support (maybe this is just me, but I imagine some people might think you mean coordination support, since you know the local area etc.). Also, I suppose you want to catch as many people that didn’t come but would have come if childcare hadn’t been an issue. But ‘render attendance difficult’ might make people feel like they’ve got too high a bar to meet (again, maybe this is just me). I was considering organizing a conference a while ago and thought that ‘we have n-many childcare grants of $m available to anyone requiring childcare during the conference, offered on a first-come-first-serve basis’ might be a good way to do things (as well as offering information about childcare). It’s explicit, the grants probably won’t be taken by many people who don’t need them, and it doesn’t make people feel like they need to declare that childcare is a major burden for them in attending the conference (even if it is). It’s obviously not ideal if you run out of money and need to find more – though this, in itself, would be useful data for the future – but it seems worse when such assistance has been budgeted for and yet it doesn’t get used.

    Also, what do people think about just budgeting in grants and fee-waivers for underrepresented groups to attend conferences? There are some obvious negatives to favoring women, disabled people, minorities etc. at the level of paper acceptance (e.g. ‘your paper only got in because you’re…’) that don’t really carry over if the incentive to participate is primarily a financial one.

  2. I was struck by how ‘child-care’ is defined in your ethos in the US. In India we don’t have child-minders paid by the hour. We either have untrained baby-sitters who are hired on a monthly salary for a set number of hours or we have live-in maids who couple as baby-sitters. And by the way both these options are quite expensive even for the middle and upper-middle classes themselves to afford. So most of us go without such child-care support at all unless we are fortunate enough or have enough patience and strength to have our parents or in-laws living with us. In most cases our in-laws or parents may already be old-enough to require care themselves. So for me in India to attend a conference, as soon as I’m invited, I’m immediately thinking how many school days is it for my son and how can I negotiate with my husband to agree to shoulder all child-care work during those number of days. It is very very hard to get a total of 5 days off (including travel) to go to a conference with my husband who is, by normal standards here in India, much more adjustable than most men. I explain all of this because in India offering child-care at a conference venue and travel costs for the child to accompany me to the conference venue where child-care is arranged for by having 2-3 baby-sitters to care for all children who come with their parents to attend while the mom’s are in conference sessions- will be more what ‘child-care’ would look like for us in India. Not sure if this really helps you folks- but thought i needed to give a South-Asian perspective of our realities…

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