Kudos to Congress for childcare

Tuesday, September 30, 2020

This blog post was originally published in the September 2014 Bulletin of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

Susan M. Holloway
University of Windsor

Kudos to congress childcare organizers for getting it right this year.
As Guttman and Burnett (Bulletin, May 2013) pointed out, childcare at the annual congress of the humanities and social sciences is an equity issue. Childcare is listed as one of the services offered on the event website, ostensibly allowing for its availability. The reality, though, is that childcare has often been off campus (as in a half hour to 45 minutes away), or not offered on the weekend when much of congress happens, or limited by ages of children allowed.
Congress seemingly listened to the protests last year of many academic parents who said they weren’t using the service because it wasn’t logistically viable.
I should know. I am a single mother of two children, now aged 8 and 11. I don’t have family to call on when I need to go to a conference out of town. Since I started my academic career seven years ago, arranging for childcare for my attendance at congress has been a huge challenge.
The childcare service at Brock University, the venue for this year’s event, was flexible about me signing up for any of the days at congress, and the hours of operation allowed me to attend a wide range of sessions. Brock got it right on every level. The children were grouped according to their ages, and for my children, this meant an age-appropriate, fun, and exciting curriculum such as learning how gravity works through hands-on experiments. The counselors who designed and implemented the curriculum were students from Brock’s pre-service B.Ed. and Masters of Education programs who made good use of the facilities on campus to enhance the children’s learning. The snacks and meals provided were healthy. And I was able to attend a key pre-conference in my field of education and literacy that requires a full-day commitment to the other participants. I have had to miss this session in some years (because childcare spaces were not available for pre-conference days) even though it is arguably my most important networking event.
In addition, the fact I was able to plan for childcare several months in advance, just as I do for accommodation, travel and congress registration fees, was key to my being able to participate more fully in the conference — although I agree with Guttman and Burnett that the childcare provision costs are prohibitive, especially for graduate students or academics who don’t have funding through their universities. Even as an associate professor, I can expect the childcare bill will cost half of my professional development budget for the year, and the SSHRC funding I have will not cover these expenses.
I hope future congress organizers will take note of Brock’s successful childcare model, and ensure similar program planning to meet the needs of parents. Given that women are still the primary caregivers for children in most families, it is female congress delegates who have the most to lose if childcare is not made properly accessible and affordable.