Friday, February 22, 2013

Parenting Resource: Babysitting

Our hydran-parents face many complicated tasks that most "ordinary" parents wouldn't think twice over. Hiring the neighbor girl to care for the kids for a date-night? That's out of the question. Finding a babysitter via the classifieds to help out while you run errands or get your hair done? Not likely. Even interviewing and discovering a great, trustworthy individual makes for many hours of training before you find peace of mind in leaving them alone... and we have all heard the horror stories in the news about seemingly safe places such as daycare facilities and preschools... eek!

The below article from USA Today gives a great glimpse. After the article find resources, with links, that you can check out if interested in finding quality care for your special needs child.

Special-needs children need special babysitters
By Cheryl Alkon, Special for USA TODAY 5/8/12

For Christine Quayle, finding child care for her son, Brian, was no easy task.

Diagnosed with hydrocephalus at birth, Brian had fluid around his brain. When he was 3 weeks old, a shunt was inserted to direct the fluid to his abdomen. Later, he was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy with dystonia, a brain injury that happened before he was born. Brian isn't paralyzed, but his movements are uncoordinated, with involuntary twisting.

Today, at 5, he uses a wheelchair, has frequent seizures, uses a stomach tube to ingest some food and medications, and uses a communication device operated by a head switch.

"We had a sitter for 10 months who I had to train for a few weeks," says Quayle, 37. 

"Things like how to transfer Brian into a wheelchair, or how to communicate with him. 

There are so many things you have to train somebody to do."

But when that sitter had a family emergency, she couldn't keep the job. Quayle turned to Specialized Sitters, a Colorado agency that matches families with child care professionals who have the training and experience to work with kids with special needs. Owner Joseph Ban introduced Quayle to Samantha McLeod, who had just relocated to the Denver area after working for two years in Mississippi as a teacher for children with severe cognitive and physical disabilities.

A welcome change
The difference was immediate. "Samantha just had it," says Quayle. "She was able to come in with very little training and take over. We've never had that."

Quayle, who works part-time as a registered nurse, says she feels comfortable leaving her son in McLeod's care, either during the week when she works or at night when she and her husband, Ed, want some alone time. "She could just jump in, and it was like any other kid where you show the sitter where the diapers are, and it's like, 'See you later.' We've gone on dates, and that's really nice."

A growing number of children are being diagnosed with autism, attention deficit disorder and other developmental or physical disorders, and it can be a challenge for parents to find a babysitter to watch kids whose needs are beyond the norm.

But several agencies now offer babysitters who have the appropriate expertise. Denver's joins Massachusetts-based Special and the special-needs division of national caregiving service in offering parents some options.

Specialized Sitters' Ban, 34, started the company after he and his wife, Nancy, 33, had trouble finding a qualified caregiver for their daughter, now 3½, who has sensory integration disorder, or problems with how the brain processes messages from the senses.

"My wife said, 'I wonder what families do with severe or moderate needs.' "

They reached out to special-ed teachers, paraprofessionals, and others and began the company earlier this year. Ban says they conduct extensive background checks, and he meets personally with each sitter to confirm that the person is qualified to work with special-needs children.

"Families would find people who said they had experience, and they would be vastly under-experienced," Ban says. also has roots in the special-ed field. Founder Jennifer Aldrich, 28, became a senior special-education teacher after caring for two brothers, one with cerebral palsy, the other with pervasive developmental disorder, years before.

Trust and understanding
Families would contact her seeking care, and she took to making announcements before her education classes at college to find qualified sitters. She launched the company last year and now has about 800 sitters, mainly in Massachusetts.

The smaller agencies work in the shadow of national website, which offers special-needs sitters along with care for elders, pets and children without special needs.

"Special-needs sitters have the opportunity to develop extraordinary relationships with amazing children and their families," vice president Lynette Fraga says.

"Ultimately, it is the quality of the relationships, based on shared trust and understanding, that will lead to a successful care situation.", a private company that launched in 2007, helps connect families with caregivers and is the largest and fastest-growing online service of its kind in the USA, says spokeswoman Meredith Robertson.

Based in Waltham, Mass., the site has more than 1 million care providers registered with the service and an average of 6 million people seeking care use the site each month.

Ultimately, it's the relationship that is the foundation for a great experience. Brian Quayle's sitter, McLeod, understands that. At 24, she has worked as a special-education teacher with severely disabled children for two years in Mississippi and worked at a camp for handicapped adults as a teen.

"That's where I fell in love, working with this population," she says. "These families and these kids deserve just as much love and attention as regular kids do.

"You can't do it alone. The parents need me, I need them, and the kid needs both of us."

Advice from providers of care for special-needs kids:
  • Be clear about your expectations: Know what you want, says Lynette Fraga of 
  • “Do you want your sitter to have specific training, experiences or credentials? Are you willing to train your sitter on medical or behavior needs your child has?” Experience in special ed is a plus, says Jennifer Aldrich of “This could mean the sitter works as a teacher, an aide or a nanny.” 
  • Do research. Look up a sitter’s name online to see what comes up. “You can learn a lot about character through a simple Facebook check,” Aldrich says. Get references. Contact past employers to determine exactly how the candidate worked best with children with similar needs, providers say. 
  • Ask open-ended questions. Let sitters demonstrate how they would handle a situation with your child, Aldrich says. Willingness to learn is key to finding a great sitter for a special needs child, said Aldrich. 
  • Don’t settle. “Find someone who works well with your child,” says special needs sitter Samantha McLeod.
Resources to Explore:
~You can also talk to your child's school where you may find teachers who are experienced in caring for your child's needs that offer in-home care services as well.
~Ask your child's therapists/doctors; word of mouth is a great resource
~If you have a college or university nearby that offers special education courses, use the school's bulletin board to post specific care needs.
~family members and friends 

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