Blog Equitable Conferencing: Caregivers Perspectives and Prospects

The Value of Informal Childcare

young mother with little daughter preparing breakfast in kitchen
by Jamie Levine Daniel, IUPUI:

Palmer House, Chicago, November, 2015. I am attending the annual meeting for the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA).  My family is with me. The twist: My husband is recovering from knee surgery. My 14-month-old child has recently figured out walking. We manage our drive from Indianapolis to Chicago, and arrive with minutes to spare before the session I am supposed to chair.

Given my husband’s temporarily limited mobility, he is pretty much stuck in our room.  Given my child’s recently improved mobility, all they want is to get out of the room. The next two days become a blur of sessions, presentations, and childcare. One hour I am talking about the relationship between nonprofit mission and earned revenue.  The next hour I am pushing a stroller in Millennium Park, hoping my child will take the nap they so desperately need.

Friday morning, I am able to meet with a fellow assistant professor with whom I had been hoping to collaborate.  We find a couch on the mezzanine level and start to chat. Or, at least, we try to chat, but I have to constantly chase after the toddler who wants nothing more than to pull down the holiday decorations tucked into all of the alcoves.  Suddenly, one of my more senior colleagues swoops in, picks up my child, puts them in the stroller, grabs the diaper bag, and says, “We’ll be back in half an hour.”

That break gave me the time I needed to focus on the business at hand. The person with whom I was meeting was Dr. Rachel Fyall. That meeting led to the first of the three articles Rachel and I have now co-authored. The senior colleague was Dr. Suzann Lupton, whose spontaneous generosity created much-needed space for intellectual exchange. 

Childcare has been a hot topic lately, coming up at and among leadership for ARNOVA, Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), and many other associations.  Many of these conversations center around formal mechanisms for easing burdens: drop in rooms, dependent care scholarships, amenities for nursing parents. These amenities would help address some barriers that childcare presents, but take time, effort, and money to implement and institutionalize. 

One thing we tried at ARNOVA 2019 was an informal network of people willing to help with last-minute childcare.  We put a call out on Twitter to ask for volunteers, compiled a list of availability, and put out announcements letting people know that volunteers were on hand should they need emergency/last-minute coverage.  The idea was inspired by my own experiences, when help I did not know I needed came unasked. The effort was low-key: social media and a Google form.

These types of efforts could be even more low-key, done on an individual level. If you know of someone bringing a child, and you are comfortable offering help, reach out before they even ask. If you are a session chair, reach out to the presenters and let them know if children are welcome in your panel.  Even if no one takes you up on your offers, sending these types of signals can help shift the culture of an association and lead to more systematic, formal changes at the scale needed to take on these challenges.

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About the author:

Dr. Jamie Levine Daniel is an assistant professor at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. Her research focuses on the relationship between nonprofit resource acquisition and program service delivery, with particular experience interest on the relationship between earned revenue and mission.