How to Weigh the Risks of Your Child’s Care Options

Employers are starting to require employees to return to work, causing them to think about how to safely arrange childcare while schools remain closed. It is a decision that requires weighing a range of risks to determine which is the safest option for your particular situation.

“This is a time when less is more,” Isabelle Valdez , physician assistant and internal medicine instructor at Baylor College of Medicine, said in an email to Lifehacker. “The fewer people we interact, the more we can be protected, as there is an increased risk of transmission in large groups.”

Your options and their relative safety will depend on your particular situation and resources. The safest option, of course, is to care for your child in the safety of your own home. However, this course of action is not available to every family, especially given the pressures of the economic crisis, holes in social safety nets and a lack of labor protection for employees who are required to return to work .

Sharing child care with another family

Depending on the circumstances, joining forces with another family to share child care services can be an impact-limiting option, especially if both families can maintain high levels of precautions.

“Having a known contact group improves contact tracing in the event of an infection and limits the number of possible contacts with fewer people,” Valdez says.

A successful exchange of child care services will require both families to agree on the precautions they will take and to have a plan in case someone gets sick. It is also important to assess the safety of all participants. This includes considering whether people have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk, or the overall exposure they receive in their work.

Sending a child to kindergarten

The CDC offered a number of recommendations for kindergartens , some of which remained open to the children of key workers. Precautions include assigning a separate teacher for each classroom, avoiding mixing children between classes, reducing classroom size, daily temperature checks, and enhancing sanitation and disinfection procedures.

“Kindergarten may be the only option for some families,” Valdez says, advising parents to review their state’s daycare requirements to see if a particular center is responding. She also recommends choosing a day care center that requires all children to be up to date with their vaccinations to reduce the risk that your child will get a preventable illness such as measles, chickenpox, or whooping cough. Despite all our current worries, we don’t need to add a measles outbreak to the list.

If you have a choice between sharing childcare services with parents who work in high-tech jobs, or sending your child to a day care center that adheres to these precautions, it might be worth looking into the center.

Paying a private nanny at home

During the isolation, Rhode Island took the unusual step of suspending all group childcare services by recommending that one healthy guardian be provided at all times in the family home. This is certainly one of the safer options as it reduces the number of people who come into contact with each other and gives you more control over the environment, but it is also one that is financially out of reach for many families.

A relative will take care of your child

Another option is to ask a relative to take care of your child. This is an option that can reduce the overall risk of infection, especially if all participants take all possible precautions. However, if the relative is at high risk, it may be worth considering another option. This includes grandparents: the CDC classifies people over 65 as high-risk.

“Families should seriously weigh their care options and be careful if they have to rely on a high-risk family member to care for their children,” Valdez says. “Childcare should preferably be provided by a relative who is less likely to contract complications from COVID.”

Right now, childcare is a problem with no good answer, especially since many workers are forced to return to the office. Each option carries a different level of risk, and it is important to weigh the options and choose the one that is least risky for everyone involved.


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