In an online community I belong to, there has recently been a vigorous discussion about child care program staff babysitting children from the program after hours. The issues discussed ranged from:
- not imposing limits on staff after-hour jobs due to the fact that many child care programs don’t pay very well
- having staff notify management if they are babysitting program children after hours
- prohibiting teachers from babysitting children from their own class
- what if a staff member doesn’t want to babysit for a particular family
- might a parent start to believe that they should get special treatment from a staff member because they pay that staff member after hours
- do we send a mixed message by babysitting; we assert that we are child care professionals, not babysitters, but then we turn around and babysit in our off-duty time
- bad publicity for the program if a child is injured during the babysitting arrangement
- and, of course, program liability
While these are all valid issues, our program addresses the first issue by attempting to pay our staff as well as possible and to provide benefits like vacation time and sick leave, health insurance reimbursement, and paid planning time for lead teachers. All of the other issues are handled by our “no babysitting” policy. Our staff members are not allowed to babysit children from the program; no exceptions. If a staff member violates that policy, he or she is immediately terminated and the parent loses their child care.
This may seem harsh, but first of all, this policy is not a surprise to anyone. Every staff member is informed of this policy during his or her orientation and signs that they understand and agree to abide by the policy. Every parent is informed of this policy as part of the enrollment process and, similarly, signs that they will abide by the policy.
So, why are we so rough on this one? The simple answer is liability. We were informed by our lawyer that if, heaven forbid, a child is injured in any way while one of our staff members is babysitting them after hours, our program could be held liable. Since the parent met the babysitter through our program, they may well believe that we are certifying that individual as safe to work with children with no constraints. The parent perceives your hiring the individual as a “perceived recommendation”. While this may be (and hopefully is) generally true, I cannot be responsible for what my staff members do outside of my program.
Some program managers believe that they can have the parent sign a waiver indicating that they will hold the program harmless if anything happens while a staff member is babysitting their child. Unfortunately, hold harmless agreements/liability waivers will often not hold up in court. And, even if it does, by that time you have already incurred legal expenses and your program name has probably already been in the news in a not-so-good way.
If you don’t already have a Babysitting Policy, check ours out here.