Monday, December 29, 2008

How to prepare baby sitters for disasters

By the Associated Press

If your child is one of the nearly 8 million who are age 4 and younger who attend a center- or home-based child care program or stay with a nanny, sitter or another nonrelative, you should make sure plans are in place for coping with a natural disaster, terrorist attack or other major event.

For day-care facilities:

— Find out how children will be evacuated and where they will go. Providers should have at least two evacuation sites, and parents should know where they are.

— Provide at least two ways to be contacted, including through someone outside their geographic area. Ask the program director for a contact number or a way to get information during an emergency.

— Keep your contact information with the school current.

"Sometimes it's hard to get people to sit down and fill out the information, but I can't stress how important that is," says Linda Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.

— Provide an extra supply of medicine if a child takes it regularly, and inquire how infants and children with special needs will be tended.

— Home-based or small care centers should make sure they are known to emergency officials. Some centers are tucked away in neighborhoods, churches and community buildings.

— Providers should make name tags or ID bands ahead of time for each child that are helpful if a child gets separated during an evacuation.

— Providers should learn about the types of disasters likely to occur in their areas, and know when to stay put and when to evacuate. Have food and supplies for everyone to last three days if they stay in place.

For baby sitters and nannies:

— Discuss evacuation plans and meeting spots.

— Prepare a kit that includes information like phone numbers and emergency contacts, copies of the children's birth certificates and health insurance information, says Deneane Maldonado, president of the Coral Springs, Fla.-based Nanny Poppinz agency that has about 12,000 nannies nationwide.

— Remember to include some contacts out of the geographic area. You may want to get phone numbers of your caregivers' relatives or friends as well.

— In hurricane-prone South Florida, Maldonado recommends parents leave $150 in cash for each day a nanny may be evacuated with the children, and fill out a form allowing her to get medical treatment for them. Don't forget extra medicine.

— Make plans for emergencies that may keep a parent from getting or even calling home one night, such as during the 2003 blackout, says Susan Tokayer, who owns Family Helpers agency in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.,

For all parents:

— Realize you can't plan for everything.

"The most important thing is to have a caregiver who is aware enough and savvy enough and smart enough to make the decision at the time," Tokayer says. "The decision is based on safety first."