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.

Childcare at Conferences: How to do it

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!

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.)

Childcare at Conferences: talking about it makes a difference!

Jenny Saul tells us that her colleague Steve Laurence has decided to offer help with arranging childcare for his conference as a result of our blog posts! Just yesterday, the Culture and the Mind: Norms and Moral Psychology conference web site has had the following addition made:

If you need childcare in order to attend the conference, then we are happy to help you try to arrange this.

Three cheers to Steve Laurence & the the folks at The Hang Seng Centre. (Now: everybody else follow suit. Easy as pie. Thanks!)

CFP, and a question

I wanted to attract attention to the call for papers for this conference we are organizing in Amsterdam, here.

The Classical Model of Science II – The Axiomatic Method, the Order of Concepts and the Hierarchy of Sciences from Leibniz to Tarski (Amsterdam, August 2-5, 2011 Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

It has 50% gender balance among invited speakers (4 and 4) and among the scientific committee (13 and 13). It took some effort and time but most of all it is the result of paying attention. We proved it is possible! I wanted to thank the blog and the gendered conference campaign for raising awareness on this point. It helped us getting clear on how important it is – or at least it helped me making it clear to everybody involved that
this is important.

A question: as said in the call, we are currently investigating child care facilities. Professional child care for the duration of the conference would amount to 3200 euros. If there is need and interest among invited speakers we will try to raise the money but I am not optimistic that we will manage. We were less prone to use students as suggested on the blog, also because legislation and rules on the matter in the Netherlands are quite strict. Is there any institution that you might recommend to us for apply to with some chances of success?

Thank you in advance – and best wishes!
Arianna Betti

Asking about childcare

A reader writes:

I will be presenting at a major week-long philosophy conference when my baby is six months old. I don’t see anything on the conference website about childcare so I’m assuming there won’t be any. My question is what would it be okay for me to ask for without sounding like I want special treatment? I’d like to ask for them to set aside a room that my husband (not a participant at the conference) and I could have access to so I can feed my baby in private without leaving the conference. Would a request like that be appropriate? Has anyone had success making requests like this in the past? Thanks!

Reader query on family-friendly conferences

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?

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?

Mother-friendly conference organising: an experiment

To see how far we could get with small fixes — improving the aspects of academic conferences that are pretty easy to change — I organized an experimental conference along with June Gruber, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder (and a fellow academic mom). The conference, held at the University of California Berkeley earlier this month, brought together an outstanding group of speakers using the latest psychological work to challenge misconceptions about the mind — from the idea that pursuing happiness is a good way to achieve it, to the idea that babies are born racist. We called the conference the Misconceptions of the Mind Conference: MoMiCon 2016. And we didn’t just invite the mommies: We invited the babies.

For more, go here.