6 questions nannies and sitters should ask before caring for kids during COVID-19

April 1, 2020

As COVID-19 wreaks havoc across the world, professional caregivers are being affected in a big way. Many nannies and sitters were let go when families began quarantining at home and states issued “stay-at-home” orders. 

However, many parents, including health care professionals and other essential workers, need child care, and many caregivers not only want to help families but also need their jobs in order to make a living. If you’re a caregiver seeking a new job or returning to child care work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, here are the questions you need to be asking, according to the experts.

1. What do I need to know in terms of COVID-19 and child care work?

First and foremost, if you are a caregiver and suspect you may be sick, stay home from work and do not care for children. Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, a general practitioner and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor, advises that if you develop any symptoms, you do not go to the family’s home, and if anyone in the home develops symptoms, you do not report to work either.  

“Encourage your employer to disclose if they are having any symptoms similar to COVID-19,” says Dr. Florencia Segura, board-certified pediatrician at Einstein Pediatrics in Vienna, Virginia, “and assure them that you would do the same, as you are both a team.”

Self-quarantining is also advisable, even if you’re currently healthy, for anyone who has recently been in contact with someone who was sick with coronavirus, or suspect that they were. Stay home and avoid all contact with other people just in case you’ve been infected. This is usually done for two weeks (14 days) or for however long your doctor advises. 

“If you are uncomfortable with your employer’s family safety precautions, it is important to talk to them about mutual expectations,” says Segura.  

2. What should I discuss in advance with my employer families?

“It is important to recognize that the family’s home is a workplace,” says Segura, “therefore, it is critical for the nanny/sitter to have a conversation with the parent “employer” about keeping each other safe.”

“With regard to prevention,” says Segura, “have an agreement regarding each other’s understanding of the importance of social distancing.” Everyone’s actions right now are interconnected more than ever, so that means you both agree to take precautions at home at all times. This, says Segura, helps to protect the health of their family, as well as yours and your family’s.

“Realize that as nervous as you are, your employer is also worried about keeping themselves and their families safe,” says Segura. “Therefore, having an open line of two-way communication and clear expectations is crucial to keep both of your families safe.”

Whether you’re continuing child care for your regular family or interviewing to work with a new family, you may want to consider putting agreed-upon safety practices around coronavirus into your existing or new nanny contract or babysitter contract

3. What specific safety precautions should I take on the job to protect everyone’s health amid COVID-19?

“For those who are nannying and babysitting other people's children,” says Aragona, “you must be aware of your surroundings. If the family is not showing symptoms, this does not mean they have not contracted the virus.” 

For this reason, it’s important to be vigilant. No one expects perfection right now, but we can all do better. We can all take precautions in our own lives in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Here are some everyday, on-the-job habits that Segura and Aragona suggest caregivers adopt as routine right now: 

  • Hand-washing should continue to be an essential habit — wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water:

    • Upon entry to the family’s home.

    • Prior to food preparation.

    • After going to the bathroom.

    • Before and after changing diapers or attending to the children. 

    • Help the kids in your care do the same. 

    • And when in doubt, it never hurts to wash hands again. 

  • Maintain physical distance of at least six feet from parents or anyone who works with you.

  • When you can't physically distance yourself, wear a cloth mask over your nose and mouth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests you wear a cloth mask over your nose and mouth, in combination with physical distancing, hand-washing and everyday preventative actions.  Masks protect others more than they protect you — so it’s a good idea if everyone working together in the home, with the exception of children under 2 years old, wears one. 

  • Remove your shoes upon entering the family’s home each day to prevent any cross-contamination between homes.

  • Use antibacterial wipes or gel — bring some with you or make sure the home has some for your use. 

  • Prioritize disinfecting high-touch surfaces, like doorknobs, kitchen areas and bathroom fixtures.

  • Stay in a designated area of the house for the time you are there, so that you can control it and clean it. 

  • Remove your shoes and change into new clothes when arriving at your own home after work, again to reduce any cross-contamination.

4. What about general hands-on care that goes along with child care? 

Caring for kids is a very hands-on job, especially when it comes to babies and toddlers who need to be held, fed, changed and cared for. And even when it comes to caring for older kids, most caregivers are used to showing some level of physical affection, whether it’s a hug or pat on the back for a job well done. So what’s a nanny or sitter to do? 

First, says Segura, “make sure the children are well and not exhibiting any cold symptoms such as runny nose, cough or fever.” This is most important. 

It’s also a good idea to adapt some of your other typical caregiving behaviors. With older kids, Segura says to make sure that you are practicing good hand-washing skills. “It is also prudent while caring for young children to not kiss babies (as cute as they are) or share food with them due to the concern of transfer of infected droplets,” says Segura. “Children can be asymptomatic carriers; therefore, even if they are not exhibiting symptoms, minimizing transfer of any bodily fluids is always in your best interest.”

5. How can I work with parents/employers to help ease anxiety and keep kids mentally healthy during this time?  

“Caregivers and parents should work together to keep kids occupied with all kinds of different activities,” says Ivanov. Since playgrounds and playdates are out right now, “children can be encouraged to play their favorite games, or read their favorite books,” adds Ivanov, “maybe start learning a new language or play a new instrument.”

Some kids, especially if you’ve been caring for them for awhile, may not understand why you’re keeping a safer distance and being extra cautious right now, so you might have to get creative. “I would suggest play therapy,” says Dr. Zlatin Ivanov, a psychiatrist currently working in several NYC hospitals, as well as his private practice in midtown Manhattan. “Play “doctor,” “nurse,” “patient,” etc. The point of the game would be that the doctor would have to explain that the patient has to stay quarantined or should not give hugs or show personal affections to the other patients until they are ‘cured.’” 

This is a fun and healthy way to help children communicate, address and resolve problems and express their feelings through play. 

Even more importantly, as the child’s trusted nanny or sitter, you need to be an example for the child by showing mental stability in front of them in order to keep their spirits up. “Assure the kids this is for everyone’s well-being and support them for doing the same,” says Ivanov. “Their friends are also in the line, so everyone is helping everyone.”

6. Are there any other safeguards I should consider while providing child care during the coronavirus pandemic?

Any nanny or sitter who continues to provide child care during this time has an obvious increased risk of exposure and sickness. For this reason, you may want to make sure you know your rights and protect your financial well-being as much as possible while maintaining a safe and cordial work environment.

“Have a discussion with the family about benefits and assistance in the event you or someone in the child’s family gets sick,” advises Damien H. Weinstein, an employment lawyer at Weinstein + Klein, a law firm with offices in New York and New Jersey. “Speak with a lawyer to understand your rights and entitlements (if any) beforehand.”

“Consulting with an employment lawyer,” says Weinstein, “will be helpful to understand what types of benefits you’re eligible for, what types of financial or other support would be reasonable to request from your employer, and what rights you have as an employee.” 

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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