Emergency Childcare Options During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Some parents, such as healthcare personnel, need sitters as schools close.
Some parents, such as healthcare personnel, need sitters as schools close.

Many parents are scrambling for backup childcare as the coronavirus threat closes schools, but not workplaces. If you're suddenly trying to both host a conference call and homeschool the kids, you might be considering new emergency childcare options.

Some of us are also asking: Is it even safe to hire a babysitter during the COVID-19 outbreak? These are unprecedented times and parents are facing challenges we've never had to consider. Social distancing is ideal, but if your reality requires childcare due to the nature of your job, we rounded up the options for emergency babysitters and other childcare options, and what questions to ask before hiring a sitter in these strange times. Keep in mind that local social distancing rules are in effect in most areas, so follow your locality's guidance. The White House also recently recommended gatherings of no more than 10 people at a time to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Find online homeschool options in our roundup of 20+ (Mostly Free) Online Education Sites, Games, and Apps, and more at-home activities and local resources in our Pandemic Guide for Parents.

Childcare Precautions During the Covid-19 Pandemic

As much as you may be scrambling for back-up childcare, it's important to keep in mind some coronavirus precautions in addition to the normal checks you'd make when selecting a provider. Care.com is recommending that parents and childcare providers ask additional questions when they are discussing a potential job, according to a company spokesperson.

Parents should add these questions to their normal roster of checks:

  • Have you been diagnosed with coronavirus or traveled to a CDC-designated Level 2 or Level 3 area within the past 14 days?
  • Have you been in close contact (e.g. shared a household or room or been together for a period of time) with anyone who has a confirmed case of coronavirus or is showing symptoms?
  • Would you have to take public transportation to work?

And caregivers should ask these of their families, according to Care.com:

  • Has anyone in your household been diagnosed with coronavirus or traveled to a CDC-designated Level 2 or Level 3 area within the past 14 days?
  • Has everyone in your household been symptom-free for 14 days?
  • If someone in your household has recently recovered from coronavirus, do you have proof of medical clearance?

Back-up Childcare Providers 

Back-up daycare centers offer welcoming environments for young children when their normal care provider is unavailable. Depending on where you are, and what back-up childcare facilities you have nearby, this could be an option for your family. Bright Horizons, for example, is keeping most locations open (although some have closed). But it is asking for the community to take extra care: if people in a household have been in contact with someone who has a suspected or confirmed coronavirus, they are asked to stay away from the centers for 14 days. 

RELATED: How to Pick a Daycare That You Actually Love

Online Sitter Services and Apps

Websites and apps such as Care.com, HelloSitter.com, or SitterCity.com can help locate a local nanny or sitter at short notice. These services are also telling parents and caregivers not to use them if they have any chance of coronavirus exposure. And healthy sitters should "immediately" wash their hands thoroughly when they arrive at a job, Hello Sitter's CEO pointed out in an email. 

RELATED: How to Get the Most Out of a Nanny or Babysitter Interview

Neighborhood Babysitting Club

Keep it local (and under 10 people) by teaming up with other parents in your community on a childcare share. You take their kids for a day (or morning/afternoon), and then swap. The smaller you can keep the group, the safer, but it also means more rotations as the caregiver. As a bonus, kids get to spend time socializing with friends they already know.

You'll need to take some time off of work to pull this one together, but it can work well when everyone on the block or in the same building is suddenly working from home.  It minimizes time away from work and also keeps costs down. However, this type of childcare might not be acceptable in all areas at this time. Some municipalities and some states have suggested social distancing groups contain only family members, not neighbors and to cease all play dates.

RELATED: Pandemic Shopping? 15 Easy Trader Joe's Recipes for Families

High School or College Student Sitter

If your local high schools or colleges are also closed, it's likely there are a ton of students suddenly with a lot of free time on their hands. Ask around your networks (or on your block) to see who is home from school and willing to help. 

Bring Your Child to Work

This option depends a lot on where you work and how well your child can adapt to that environment. It also depends again on the local reaction and rules around coronavirus. Some workers might already be telecommuting or the local area might even be asking residents to stay indoors completely. But if this is even remotely feasible, it's worth exploring. 

Visit the CDC's Coronavirus page for updated information on the virus and how to protect your family.

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