Art by Eileen Jimenez
I am a single mom and it is only my son and I living together. That means that unless he is in school or at camp, wherever I go, he goes, too—even when I have to go to the hospital.
I have numerous medical problems and when I end up in the hospital, it’s not always during school hours. There are lots of reasons why I would need to bring my son with me to the hospital, such as if I’m having seizures or sudden severe pain, and these things do not happen on a schedule.
It’s never a good idea to bring a child with you to the hospital, but it’s even worse now due to COVID. Due to COVID restrictions, sometimes hospitals only allow patients, and you can’t have a visitor with you in the waiting room. Sometimes, the hospital staff act really nice about our situation, and they let my son stay with me—they even get us a private room, if possible. But other times, they are so crowded with patients, and it isn’t good to have a child around.
One time, I needed medical treatment and they were strictly enforcing the COVID restrictions. They said that my son would either have to be picked up by a family member or they could call “children’s services” to pick him up. When they mentioned the word “ACS,” I panicked. I wasn’t going to wait around for an explanation. I just knew that I needed to get as far away from there as possible. I ended up leaving without proper treatment because I couldn’t allow them to make such a call. If I had had a safe place to drop my son off during that emergency, I would have felt safe staying for my treatment.
Sometimes, I push off treatment as much as I can because I’m scared. First, my son panics when he knows that I am sick. Then, I fear that I will have no one to watch him. Most of all, I fear what would happen if I were to fall unconscious—I am afraid the hospital would call ACS.
If I could have community-based child care for emergencies, it could very well be a life saver. Sometimes I don’t get care that is recommended, like if they want to observe me for a few days, because I don’t have anyone to take care of my son. Once, I was having symptoms for almost two weeks before I went to the emergency room. I waited to get treatment because I didn’t have child care. I only finally went to the hospital after I put my son on the bus to overnight camp for three weeks. Then, I went straight to the emergency room and my health was so bad that I stayed in the hospital for a week.
I know that I’m not the only one in this type of situation. A friend of mine has needed to go to the hospital for a really long time now. However, she has three young children, and the youngest child has special needs. Her doctor told her about respite care—but couldn’t guarantee the children’s safety or that the children would be placed together with the same family while in respite care. Because respite care is currently connected to ACS, I count that out as an option for most parents. I’ve heard from other parents that it can be difficult to get child care vouchers, and even if they do get a voucher, sometimes they have trouble finding a trustworthy child care provider that will accept the voucher. Access to child care could help prevent parents from being in a situation where they feel the need to leave their child with strangers because they don’t have another choice.
I looked up child care options on the internet, and everything is just really expensive. This means you have to be rich to have someone always accessible to watch your child. The child care options that are available aren’t something I could use—unless I win the lottery.
Accessible, community-based child care would let parents have time to take care of themselves and be free from worrying about what will happen to our children in emergencies. If I didn’t have to bring my son with me to the emergency room, I wouldn’t be exposed to the hospital’s threats of calls to ACS. Because I don’t get sick on schedule, I would need access to 24/7 child care, with someone always available to pick up my son in case of an emergency.
I would need child care and respite to be free and community-based—and in no way connected to ACS. I don’t trust just anyone with my son, so another requirement for child care for me would be that the child care educators would have background checks to help prove that they can be trusted. It would also be helpful if we could meet and talk ahead of time, so my son knows who the child care educator is and doesn’t panic if they come to pick him up. We need to work together to get our government to invest in free, community-based child care so that all parents have safe options for their children to be taken care of in emergencies.