The children arrive with a fever or a runny nose. Some suffer from diarrhea, nausea, maybe an ear infection. Others might have a sore throat or the flu.
On those days when they can’t go to school or day care and their parents can’t skip work to stay with them at home, these children have the option of staying at Cuddles & Care – a child-care program that exists specifically for sick kids in Spokane.
Parents who work outside the home often have to take sick leave or a vacation day whenever they have a child who is ill. This option, however, isn’t available to everyone.
The Project on Global Working Families, a research unit based at Harvard and McGill University, found that nearly 60 percent of poor working mothers had no sick leave at all.
“Many working families don’t have anywhere to go when their children are ill,” said Edna Niccolls, a licensed practical nurse who cares for sick children at Cuddles & Care. “They want to take care of their kids, but they don’t have a choice.”
That’s why Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital established Cuddles & Care in the early 1980s, said Julie Emery, the child care’s nurse manager. Some parents just can’t take time off when a child gets sick, she said, and others may not be able to get help from a neighbor or friend and make alternate arrangements.
Cuddles & Care serves hundreds of families each year by accepting sick children that normally wouldn’t be allowed at school or day care because of their illnesses. The program is believed to be the only one of its kind in the area, said Joy Kessinger, a child care provider who has worked at Cuddles & Care for the last seven years.
Ranging in age from a few weeks to 12 years old, the children who are brought to the center usually suffer from the flu, an ear infection or a fever. While the program is open to kids with mild, temporary illnesses, it doesn’t accept those with mumps, chicken pox and rubella, or children with lice, pinworms or scabies.
“It’s really nice here – people take their time to care for you,” said 12-year-old Bailey Lynch. “They help you feel safe.”
Bailey, a sixth-grader at Logan Elementary, and her 9-year-old sister, Olivia, recently had a case of pink eye, an inflammation that can be highly contagious.
Although the sisters were both on antibiotics, they still couldn’t go to school. So they spent the day doing a little homework, coloring with markers and hanging out at Cuddles & Care, which is next to St. Anne’s Children and Family Center downtown.
In a large room that resembled a day care or educational setting with its pumpkin cut-outs on the wall, artwork by children and holiday decorations, the girls found themselves among a group of kids that consisted mostly of infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
“They get sick a lot during the first two years of life,” said Niccolls. “But as they get older, their immunities get better.”
According to the Project on Global Working Families, more than one in three families have family care-giving needs that require two weeks or more of their time each year.
While 50 percent of parents with paid sick or vacation leave stayed at home with their sick children, only 13 percent of those without paid or vacation leave were able to do that.
There is currently no federal law that guarantees even one day of paid sick leave to workers, notes RESULTS, a nonprofit grassroots advocacy organization based in Washington D.C.
The Family and Medical Leave Act offers only unpaid leave and according to RESULTS, only 60 percent of the working population is eligible for FMLA.
According to some of the responses on The Spokesman-Review’s Parents Council blog, parents who work outside the home often have few alternatives when a child gets sick.
“When my kids were in day care, I used all of my vacation days taking care of sick kids and faced discipline at work if I missed any more time,” wrote Shannon.
“… While I understand the need to keep sick, contagious children home, both schools and day cares abuse the ‘no sick kids’ rules that they have. Day cares are especially bad about this because they still get paid even if your child isn’t there.
“There were many days that I missed work because my child had ‘seemed’ sick at the time so I had to come get them, or was not allowed to bring them in the next day because they supposedly had had a fever. Many of these times, they were absolutely fine by the time we got home.”
Another mom, Kathryn B., mentioned the guilt that some parents feel when they have to leave a sick child behind. Like Shannon, she, too, got in trouble at work for taking time off to care for kids.
“… When I worked part time, what I found would happen is I’d be taking the kids in to Urgent Care or an after-hours clinic on weekends so we could get them on antibiotics, if necessary, so they could go to child care on Monday and I could go to work,” she wrote.
To help these stressed-out moms and dads, Cuddles & Care can take up to 15 kids each day, depending on the children’s ages.
Each child gets a bed or crib as well as breakfast, lunch and snacks. Based on parents’ written instructions, the children also can take their medicine and receive medical treatment.
Parents must make a reservation by calling the center. Along with diapers, wet wipes, changes of clothing, formula, baby food and a special toy or blanket, moms and dads and other guardians must provide Cuddles & Care with a record of immunization. They also must sign a medication and service release form.
Because of the various illnesses at the center, Kessinger and Niccolls are constantly washing their hands. They also scrub and sanitize all the toys, beds and surface areas at the end of the day.
There have been occasions when a child who comes in with a cold ends up going home with the flu, Emery acknowledged. But for the most part, caregivers try to minimize infection by keeping kids apart when someone has something contagious.
“The kids don’t feel well, but they know they’re in a safe place and the people who are taking care of them have an interest in them,” said Emery. “Parents feel reassured that their child is being cared for.”
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