Parents should keep their sick kids from daycare - but we've all done it

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock  

OPINION: I saw the sign as soon as I walked into daycare.

There was a vomiting bug. I considered turning straight back around and going home.

Every time there is one of these signs in the foyer – for norovirus, for croup, for strep throat, for hand foot and mouth – my two-year-old son has caught it within 24 hours.

And worse, once he has it, the whole household has it. It feels like I've got every cold, every cough, every virus. Twice!

Once my 6-week old daughter ended up in Starship for a week. She was poked, prodded and lumbar punctured. And in the end, they reckon it was a viral infection. Who had she been in contact with over the last few days, they asked. I knew the culprit. My son. And his collaborators? Every kid in the God damn daycare. 

On that particular day I decided to proceed and took my son to his room.

I didn't really consider the alternative (of taking him home.)

I had an article to write, but also daycare is expensive and as every parent knows, you pay whether your child is there or not.

We got through the doors and like every day, the toddlers flocked to my then six-month old daughter who was always with us for the drop-off.


Man, do they love a new baby. I tried to hold her a little bit higher, in a futile attempt to stop any cross contamination.

As I fought them off (their grubby hands nipping at her booties) I could hear a terse conversation taking place between a mum and a teacher.

It turned out her son had been vomiting at daycare the afternoon before and therefore hadn't had the regulatory 48 hour stand down period required before he could return. He was still contagious.

The mum was furious – he was fine now, she said. Plus, she had a meeting at work. She absolutely would not take him home.

The teacher stood her ground, the mum stood hers. Eventually another teacher was called in to break the stalemate, the riot act was read, and the mum begrudgingly left - with her son in tow. 

A group of mothers gathered around saying how terrible it was that she brought her sick son to daycare to infect all the other kids.

And I had to agree.

Still, I couldn't help but think, haven't we all been guilty of it to some degree, or done the old Panadol dose n' drop at least once?

We've all wiped their noses, given them cough syrup and sent them on their way, crossing our fingers that their fever doesn't spike and you get the call to come and pick them up. 

But where do you draw the line?

How sick is too sick?

A common cold for one kid, can turn into a nasty ear infection for another and have the whole house up at night.

I know someone who knowingly sent their child to daycare who was still contagious with conjunctivitis, because she'd already used up her sick days from work.

And in a way, it's not really the parents who are to blame but the pressures of the workplace. In almost every family I know both parents work.

And although many workplaces outwardly preach (and at times even promote) their work flexibility for parents, in reality they often don't make it easy for their workers to practice it.

As a freelance writer who works from home one of the biggest advantages to the job is I can juggle my workload around my family.

But it's not as easy as that for most. And added to that, there is often little support from friends and family. If for some reason my husband or I couldn't look after one of our children when sick, the alternatives are slim.

My kids have only one grandparent in the country and 99 per cent of our friends work a traditional 9-5 job (and the ones that don't, probably don't want our sick kids infecting theirs either!)

It's a vicious circle of sickness.

And at times, the daycare can feel like a game of roulette. You take your chances on what sickness they'll come home with.

On the bright side, there is light at the end of the tunnel. A study led by Dr Sylvana Cote at the University of Montreal, found by the time these daycare-bred children go to primary school, they develop fewer infections than their peers who didn't go to daycare. It's a small mercy.  

I went back early that day and picked my son up, and kept him home for rest of the week.

I didn't fancy our chances of spinning the wheel to see if he'd be vomiting all night or not.

I decided I'd rather have a well toddler at home with me for a few days over a sick one.

And for what felt like the first time ever, he didn't catch the bug. The house, our house, won!