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The NSF now allows their funding to be used to pay for childcare expenses for scientists attending conferences in the United States. I take it that this means that organizers of NSF-sponsored conferences can offer to reimburse the childcare costs of attendees.

I periodically help to run conferences which are funded by the NSF, and I would like to offer funding for childcare to help parents attend the conferences I run. What should I know about childcare?

From what I have read on the internet, it seems that parents would like conference organizers to make all the arrangements in advance. However, as a nonparent I question my ability to do this effectively. I know nothing about daycare. Moreover, I would somewhat prefer to make sure that childcare will actually be required before I take the time to arrange it.

Is it enough to advertise "Funding for childcare will be available; if you require childcare, please contact us by [date] so we can make arrangements", to encourage parents to use the internet/telephone to find a provider they like, and to reimburse for the bills? Or is it important to go beyond this in some way?

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    However, as a nonX I question my ability to do this effectively. — So ask an X for help. – JeffE Jul 13 '16 at 13:49
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    This is actually an interesting question. Should the conference locate and identify a childcare provider in close proximity to the conference site? And, how many care providers are in a position to take a short-term (one week?) influx of children? Or do they mean that a PI's grant will cover child care costs at the home site while one parent is away at a conference? I would note that the link is to a high level document, finding the NSF statement difficult to find. – Jon Custer Jul 13 '16 at 15:29
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    I've seen (non-academic) conventions use KiddieCorp in the US. The convention organizers set it up so that you got so many free hours as part of registration but you could pay for more hours. KiddieCorp set up in a suite and brought in toys and games. – mkennedy Jul 13 '16 at 17:43
  • @mkennedy can I suggest you add that as an answer? It might need a bit of expansion but it's the best advice I've seen on this and with a few links and details it could be what the OP needs. – arboviral Jul 14 '16 at 11:12
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I believe thinking about, and preferrably getting data on, the ages of children who would be likely to accompany their parents, would help you answering the question. An older child (say, 7 and older) has vastly different needs from a toddler.

Speaking from experience, a short-term daycare solution for children under 3-4 is likely to cause more frustration for both kids and parents than it solves. I would strongly recommend against offering this.

Another question you might like to consider is whether people travelling with children are likely to also bring their partner. I would guess "yes". If so, perhaps you could use the childcare money to somehow compensate the partner for (presumably) taking unpaid leave from work? This would be a perfect solution for infants/toddlers, and especially if a mother who is still breastfeeding (or has a small child with very strong maternal attachment) wants to attend.

I guess you could offer these as complimentary solutions: centralised daycare/playgroup system for children above (e.g) 4, compensating partner for travelling along for children under 4 (or with special needs).

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    There's kind of a chicken and egg problem with the first paragraph. Potential attendees may need to know what childcare options are available before they can decide whether or not to attend. So in practice, I think the organizer really needs to decide what services to make available before they know who will actually use them. – Nate Eldredge Jul 14 '16 at 12:35
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    Why would the conference organizer dictate the age cutoff for the daycare, rather than the parent or daycare provider? If anything it should be "daycare through provider contracted by conference organizer, or compensation up to $X for traveling partner or another local provider of your choice. Parent decides which option is most appropriate for their own child given child's age, personality, previous daycare experience, or other factors." – ff524 Jul 15 '16 at 2:08
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    Well, for one thing, leaving the cutoff undefined leaves room for surprises for the organizers. For another, e.g. first-time parents with a one-year-old might not reflect on this being a bad idea if they've never tried it before, "surely it's a good idea if they offer it", and then learn on day one of the conference that this is going to be a bad experience for the child that they're stuck in for a few days. – semi-extrinsic Jul 15 '16 at 19:59
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What an excellent question! Of course, the best way to proceed depends in part on the size of the conference. If the conference is fairly small, such that you are unsure whether ANY participant will need childcare, perhaps include the advertisement as you've written. If the conference is larger, a solution arranged prior to the advertisement might relieve headaches for yourself, the organizing staff, and (of course) the conference participants.

KiddieCorps is one company that offers event-based childcare. I've also seen advertisements for childcare or activities offered through the conference hotel. One such arrangement was for the Epidemics conference in Clearwater, FL in 2015, but the conference website has switched over to 2017 details and I don't have a link. For either of these options, perhaps speak with the service about the best way to advertise and about any limitations.

It is likely difficult for an individual parent to arrange a close or on-site location, so at a minimum, arrange this and prominently advertise its existence to attendees (http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2014/08/new-initiatives-offer-child-care-solutions-traveling-scientists). For nursing mothers, proximity is particularly important (http://thefederalist.com/2014/11/13/does-your-professional-conference-welcome-mothers/).

Good luck!

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