The pitfalls of resort child care

Holiday play: Club Med gets a thumbs up for its approach to childcare.
Holiday play: Club Med gets a thumbs up for its approach to childcare. 

You know you're a bad parent when you discover your baby playing with a razor. This happened on our first family holiday after the birth of our daughter, Grace.

As we landed at our Asian holiday destination, I was looking forward to some child-free time, so I booked the resort's in-house babysitter.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the door of our hotel room to see the same 16-year-old girl who'd checked us in ready to take charge of our kids. Ignoring our gut instincts, we left toddler Taj and baby Grace in her less-than-capable hands.

Tracey Spicer
Tracey Spicer Photo: Natalie Pilato

Halfway through lunch, I sensed something was wrong and raced back to the room. Grace had been crying, so our ''carer'' had put her portacot in the bathroom. The tiny terrorist had pulled herself up on the rails, grabbed my toiletries kit from the vanity, and was using the razor as a chew toy.

I was horrified. How could we let this happen? Exhaustion and ignorance had trumped care and caution. At home, you get references, check qualifications, or ask someone you know. But on holidays in foreign countries, you have no idea whether you're putting your children at risk.

Believe it or not, there are few regulations for childcare services in Australian hotels and kids' clubs.

It's a minefield for parents - and tourism operators.

The Marriott and Swissotel chains outsource to Dial-an-Angel, which has strict rules surrounding qualifications and experience.

Each of the Sheraton kids' clubs has a different hiring policy.

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Perhaps the most rigorous is Club Med.

"All of our gentils organisateurs have undergone Working with Children Checks, have substantial experience in childcare, and are first aid or CPR qualified," says Madeleine Clow, general manager of Club Med Australia.

But it's not just about regulations: carers should actually care.

One friend who'd taken her children on a cruise watched in disbelief as the three young staff members chatted with each other for 10 minutes, ignoring the babies in their care.

While Fiji is light on legislation, "the naturally nurturing instinct of its people see children from across the globe treated like family members", says a spokesperson for Tourism Fiji.

So what can we do, aside from rely upon gut feel?

Child Wise has some sage advice: Ask the hotel about its child-protection policy before you book; ensure the kids' club has a registration form for every child; and spend some time watching the carers.

"Because there are no national standards for child protection, you really don't know who you're going to get," Scott Jacobs, from childwise.net, says.

He's lobbying for new laws to make sure children are in safe hands. "It's all about parents applying pressure."

And, of course, removing all sharp objects.

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tracey.spicer@fairfaxmedia.com.au