Childcare ethics: How do you deal with sick kids?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

When I dropped the Mookid off at childcare yesterday morning, I overheard a mum telling a teacher that she has exhausted all her childcare leave, and has no choice but to bring her son to child care. She doesn't have any more annual leave to claim either, and I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sympathy for her and her son.

Honestly, the first thing which came to my mind was how worried she must feel, because as a Mum, there is nothing which I dread more than the boy being ill. For all the times which the little one suffered through blocked noses, high fevers, coughs and colds, I will always wish that I could suffer in his place so that he won't have to go through it.

I admit that there was that niggling thought in my mind - the boy will be exposed to whatever his schoolmate is suffering from, but as a working Mum, I can totally understand her position in this instance. Furthermore, I also saw her produce a letter from a doctor certifying that her son is fit for school, and the running nose was just the tail end of the fever and flu which he had suffered the previous week.

What amused me, however, was the teacher's reaction when she saw me. She knows me as Caden's mum, but we are not familiar with each other because she teaches the Nursery class and the Mookid is in Playgroup. She saw me, smiled, and quickly ushered the other parent into the separate office.

Perhaps she did so because she has had unpleasant encounters with other parents in the light of the situation. Maybe it was an instinctive reaction to prevent any complaints or finger pointings should another child be taken ill. Either way, it got me thinking.

I am guilty of being judgemental in the past. Prior to having a kid, whenever I read stories of outbreaks in schools or hear of a sudden rise in flu or cough cases in preschools, I thought that it was irresponsible for the parents to have sent their sick kids to school. It doesn't seem fair that a whole class of kids is exposed to an illness when it would have made more sense for them to be kept at home till they are fully recovered.

You know the saying that people who have no kids seem to 'know' more about parenting those who do? It's true. They seem to have the 'perfect' solution to everything - but at the end of the day, only when they become parents themselves will they really understand the challenges that come with raising a child. Parenting seems to be so much easier when you don't have the physical child to take care of. Nothing is textbook perfect, and not everything pertaining to the child can be explained by the most comprehensive parenting book. Ever.

We chose to place the kid in a preschool / daycare by choice, because we want him to learn social skills, discipline, and have a good foundation in learning. As my in-laws, his secondary caregivers, are getting on in years, we feel that it's also best to give them a breather instead of having to care for the boy full time.

What about parents who place their kids in daycare because they have no other choice? When both parents work full-time and there are no alternative caregivers, daycare is the only other option, apart from leaving the kid(s) to a helper.

There are approximately 14 days in annual leave, at starting point. Some companies choose to increase this by one or two days with every subsequent year of employment. Add on 6 days of childcare leave. A parent has 20 days in a year to claim leave. Assuming a child comes down with a high fever, which can last from 3 days to a week. Then he contracts HFMD, in 2 months time. That's perhaps (conservatively) another 6 days of leave claimed to take care of him at home. Perhaps the child is sickly, and falls ill easily. How then, does one manage?

Kids fall sick. All of them do, regardless of how healthy they otherwise are, and how much supplements or boosters they are given. Some kids tend to fall sick easier than others - that's just about all the difference there is.

We are very very fortunate that my in laws stay near Caden's childcare, and picks him up at around 3pm, after his naptime in school. He is able to experience 'home' comforts and have dinner at an appropriate time, since we finish work pretty late. When there was one time he came down with a fever halfway through school day, his Grandma picked him up from school to bring him to the doctor. When he is unwell, he stays at his grandparents' home and is well cared for. Even during the recent haze situation, we chose to keep him away from school (as classes are non-air conditioned) for as long as it lasted, because we have the luxury of alternative care.

DaddyMoo and I need not worry about having to take leave to take care of the kid when he's kept home from school in situations whereby deadlines have to be met and taking leave would mean that certain things at work has to be kept on hold. We take leave as and when we are able to, and we are indeed thankful that we are blessed with parents who are more than happy to care for their grandson whenever.

What if we don't have this luxury? What if we have no choice, like the parent whom I mentioned above, who has exhausted all her leave? Perhaps we can take unpaid leave, but will it be prudent to always have other people cover our duties?

For me, my family always comes first. But I do not judge other parents who may have their reasons to prioritise other things. I am not in their situation, and I have no right to judge them. No parent will wish ill of their children, and likewise, I'm sure every working parent would see to it that they try to spend all free time with their kids.

What would have run through your mind had you been in my shoes yesterday morning? When is a child considered well enough after a nasty bout of sickness? If he is certified fit by a physician, yet is still recovering - is it appropriate to send him to school?

Please share your thoughts.

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27 comments :

  1. wow just TODAY we kept poppy home because she complained of a sore throat. hub said still can go to school. i was torn. would sending her to school with a sore throat be irresponsible? to me, drippy nose is bad but sore throat isn't that bad. but because her school had a few HFMD cases we decided to let her stay home till her immunity got better. phew!

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    1. That's the thing, Adora... as and when the kids are ill, we are fortunate to be able to provide care for them at home. What if (in light of the situation) it was a working parent who can provide no alternative care?

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  2. I belong to the group of working parents who do not have other family as a back up. The childcare that they go to have on their list of what is accepted and what is not. For example, HFMD (definitely no no), coughs & cold (ok), etc.

    My husband and I take turns staying home when one or both of our children are clearly unwell (lethargic, cannot sleep) and stay home with them. We use our own MC leave to cover those times. We are lucky to have employers who are very understanding.

    It's a tough one for working parents.

    The first 12 months in childcare were the hardest for us. Our twins were catching colds & coughs every month! Halfway through their first year, we started giving them immunity booster powder in their milk which is tasteless. It takes time to build immunity and we have seen a significant drop in their incidence of illnesses since then.

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    1. It's great if we have understanding employers... but it's a rat race world here, so that's something to add on to the burdens as well.

      I was so surprised that one of the questions posed prior to shortlisting staff in many companies now (as relayed to me by many moms who want to rejoin the workforce) is: Are You Married? If yes, do you have kids? How many? -> Your chances get trimmed off with every yes answer to the questions, culminating in your application form + resume in the bin if you have more than 1 kid.

      Sad situation, but very real.

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  3. If I was a working mum with no backups to look after my kid if he falls ill, I guess I would also be caught in the same situation. Send the kid to CC anyway! Yes irresponsible. But, what other choice if my leaves are exhausted? Perhaps CCs should look into a special sick bay as contingency plan. Just saying. :p

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    1. That's a great idea, you know? But as it is, there is a shortage of teachers and caregivers who are willing to work in this challenging industry... I think adding a special 'sick bay' of sorts will involve the need for more manpower as well :(

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  4. Yes...that will be my situation next year when my babe goes to CC :( too bad there is no backup for me and yes.....limited # of leaves also. Best part is my child CC has this teacher's retreat of 3 days!!! That means that will be the end of my child care leave also...just for their retreat! Not for me to standby for such emergencies!

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    1. It's a tricky situation, ya? I think all CC has some retreat or staff training thing apart from the regular Public holiday closures. I read that they can close up to a maximum of 6 days for their own causes.

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  5. That is a tough situation and a mom needs to do what she's gotta do. I would rather keep the kids at home until they are well enough but when that is not an option because no one will care for them at home, going to childcare seems more visible option.

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    1. Yes - I suppose the kids can get infected just about anywhere, even at home!

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  6. This speaks to me on so many levels, thanks for sharing! ^^

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  7. As a working mum, I have to confess that there are times when I send Sophie to the child care despite her being sick. I don’t live close to my parents or in laws so if she’s ill in the morning with a flu or cough, we inform her teachers about it and pray it doesn’t develop into a fever. That said, the teachers do monitor her closely and will call us once a fever develops. Of course, if she’s really unwell, I will take child care leave or scramble to make child care arrangements. These are the kind of things that working mms have to deal it and I’ve not to judge.

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    1. I agree, Susan. Whatever works, ya? It's tough handling kids and work and family enough as it is, and if more people were to be more 'united' in accepting that methods to parenting a child is up to the child's parents and no one else, perhaps there will be less unhappiness?

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  8. "You know the saying that people who have no kids seem to 'know' more about parenting those who do? It's true. They seem to have the 'perfect' solution to everything - but at the end of the day, only when they become parents themselves will they really understand the challenges that come with raising a child." - I cannot agree more!!

    I'm very grateful my parents can help to look after the kids if I can't take leave and they are better off staying at home. It's really not easy cos we don't want to compromise the impression we give our bosses too. Sigh!

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    1. Yes! We are very fortunate in that sense... that is why my heart really goes out to those who don't have this luxury!

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  9. I draw the line at fevers (if Dr Sears says so, then it must be so!)... although I get a bit squeamish seeing snotty noses, but well... some kids would have to stay home forever if the rule was no coughs, runny nose and sore throats allowed! Layla had a cough that lingered for TWO months recently, it cleared up during the June hols, and at the tail end she got sick again! Thankfully everything cleared up in three days.

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    1. All kids get sick... but at the same time, I think every adult in their right mind will not wish illness upon a child. I can totally understand why parents would want to prevent their kids from all kinds of stuff which can make them ill, and do everything within their means to ensure that.

      But we can't protect our kids all the time, 24/7, short of them becoming bubble kids. They can catch bugs anywhere - even at places which we think is safe.

      On the upside, it builds their immunity. Dettol-ling everything never did help a child's development ;)

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    2. Agreed we can't live in a bubble... although sometimes we try, haha.

      Oh! But I must add that I think one parent asking another whether he/she minds meeting up if her kid is coughing, sniffling etc is putting the other parent in a tight spot! Better to take the initiative to cancel, and let the other parent say she doesn't mind!

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    3. Ya!! Especially at birthdays!

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  10. I totally understand the plight of these parents who have no choice, but also fall on the side that children who are sick (whether severe or not) should not be sent to school. Like you said, you sent C to school for social and learning opportunities, and it would not be fair for viruses to be imminent in the air ever so often when children should be granted good health amidst their learning environment. Children catch on viruses like bees are to honey, that is why we should not be spreading illnesses at schools or centres just because there is not alternative option.

    It's like a vicious cycle. You have no choice but to send your sick child to school. Sick child infects another child, and another parent is put into the same dilemma as you. And it goes on and on. A neverending cycle, and that is why childcare centres and sometimes kindies are never really free from viruses/illnesses. :(

    Of course we can't really bubble wrap a well or sick child, but preventives should be taken into consideration. Try our best in being a responsible parent, and not just think for your dilemma, but also think of the community in hand. How sending a sick child may affect the other children, and also possibly the teachers. Just my two cents worth, regina!

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    1. Yes. A vicious cycle it is.

      Send also salah, don't send also there are no options. It's a lose lose situation for everyone involved.

      In households where both parents NEED to work for financial stability and to get by in life, it is a very real dilemma.

      Truth be told, putting aside those who think they cannot manage on an income which is 'comfortable' to them (not only to cover basic needs), how does one grapple with this problem? At the end of the day, it's a 'live with it!' thing as well. Sweep all under the carpet and everything just looks peachy clean.

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  11. And I am going to add in my thoughts on how it is a rat race. Mom sends child to school because she can't afford to go on leave. Teacher gets infected, but totally can't go on medical leave because of the same rat race world, and also because the class needs her. From a teacher's point of view, they are always at the losing end in such situations. :(

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    1. That's true, I totally agree that teaching (especially at preschool level) is often a thankless task. It amuses me to see how it parents sometimes are so quick to blame teachers for everything that the child is exposed to, or is unable to learn. they take it for granted when a child performs well. Kinda like: I pay so much for what ah? Of course I have expectations!

      They often neglect to think that it also depends on each child. some will learn faster than others, and some will excel in certain things better than their peers. Teaching can only do so much.

      Little wonder that there is a shortage of manpower in this industry. High expectations, low reward. Even if you teach because you love what you do, everyone has their limits!

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  12. We belong to the the group of parents without backup :(
    Childcare is our only option ( before my Mrs become a homemaker).

    Give and Take, if kids are slightly feverish or coughing, we are ok with them in school (whether ours or other parents'). Teachers try to accomodate, and sometimes isolate/monitor the kids first.

    With 3 kids in childcare at any one time, we really struggle through those HFMD and Chickenpox seasons ! Our leaves were literally consumed for the kids.

    On the other hand, there are some irresponsible parents who insist on sending their obviously sick kids (green mucus, chesty coughs, mild diarrhea) to school. We want to pity them, but who will pity us when virus chain-reaction hit our family :(

    * I have been petitioning for pro-rated childcare leave for xx years. How can 6 days be enough for 4 kids :p

    Cheers, Andy
    (SengkangBabies)

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    1. I agree, Andy! They take turns to fall sick, and how to divide 6 days between 3 kids?

      I think it also depends on the CC. I know my son's childcare will not allow those who are really sick to come in. They take temperature and check hands and feet every morning before the kids enter, and I've seen many times they will ask the parent to take the kids home. So again, it's all relative.

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  13. I guess m fortunate enough to have parents and some relatives whom i can count on to leave my child when i have to go to work and when she gets sick. There are really times that we are simply left without a choice but to send them so childcare centers even when they're sick and about childcare centers, there are centers that have policies about sick kids. They normally don't allow kids who are sick to enter the premises.

    AuPairInt.com

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