Reading, Writing and Sneezing: Sick Kids at School
What's a Mother To Do?
"It's been a month from hell," sighs Linda C., on the phone from the receptionist's desk at a downtown Boston consulting firm. "I feel I've been out of work more than I've been here."
Linda's 5-year-old daughter has conjunctivitis. She gave it to her younger sister, 16-month-old Tracy, who also has a cold. Before that, the girls shared a case of ringworm. Linda has turned to her mother for some back-up care, but has also missed a lot of time in the office. Her husband, an engineer on a major construction project, can't take time off. Today Linda was so desperate that she sent Gabrielle to school earlier than she should have; school rules require medication for conjunctivitis be given for 48 hours, and Gabrielle has taken it for only half that time. She may still be contagious.
"I actually lied to the school so they would take her in because I was in such a bind," Linda admits. "This is the first time I've done this. I'm at that point where I feel I don't have any choice!"
Caught between the demands of work and family, many parents are sending kids to school sick. School nurses say it's happening more often, as the demands on parents grow.
"The child gets stuck in the middle," complains Elaine Z., a school nurse in an affluent Boston suburb. "Many parents will give a child Tylenol in the morning, then four hours later, at 11:30, the temperature is up and the kid is miserable. I get really annoyed when I say, 'Honey did you tell Mom you weren't feeling well' and the child says 'Yeah, but she said I have to go to school.'"
On the other hand, this nurse sympathizes with parents who must make split-second decisions during the morning mad-dash.
"The problem is, the judgment gets colored by what kind of day the parent has ahead," she adds.
Little Help From Corporate America
Despite the bull market and boom economy, corporate America continues to see the issue of backup or emergency childcare as a parent's sole responsibility. According to the Families and Work Institute, only five percent of companies with over 100 employees offer help with sick childcare.
One such company is Johnson & Johnson, the nation's largest healthcare products company, headquartered in New Jersey. It runs child development centers at six company locations, each with a separate area for mildly sick children ages 6 weeks to 6 years. A full-time nurse is on staff to provide medication and supervision as kids engage in quiet playtime activities. Each sick care room has a separate ventilation system.
"If a parent needs to be at a meeting and the child is running a slight temperature, they can bring them in," says company spokesman John McKeegan. "It's part of what makes Johnson & Johnson a good place to work, part of what attracts young families and helps us keep good workers."
Though Johnson & Johnson is not alone -- Chase Manhattan Bank in New York and John Hancock Life Insurance in Boston also offer on site sick kid coverage -- 84 percent of children surveyed for a Families and Work Institute report say that having mom present when they're sick nears the top of their priority list.
Parent Checklist: When To Keep Your Kid Home
Some expert advice from school nurses and work/family consultants:
More on: Children's General Health