Federal Laws Impact Babysitting Policy

Colleen Garrison, Copy Editor

Officials are reviewing the campus babysitting policy to check compliance with federal laws and regulations.

Katherine Pohlidal, Director of the Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children (WWC)  Program, said that compliance with the law, specifically Title IX, is a major concern. Under the requirements of Title IX, schools receiving federal funds have a legal obligation to protect students and minors from gender-based violence and harassment, including sexual assault.

The current babysitting policy found in the student handbook states, “Misericordia University students are not allowed to babysit children in any campus building. The exceptions to this are the participants in the Women with Children Program.”

Kit Foley, Vice President of Student Affairs, said that the policy was established for the safety of the children in the WWC program and to decrease liability to the university.

“We had a policy for many, many years that students were not allowed to babysit in university-owned buildings.  When the Women with Children Program came into being in 2000, we said ‘OK, we would allow a student to go to the house to babysit, but they could not bring the child to their residence hall,’” said Foley.

Pohlidal has clear requirements for potential caregivers.

“Babysitters would need to come to us and watch our children in our homes and anyone who would be working directly with the children would need to have the adequate clearances,” said Pohlidal.

Foley has to determine the need for legal clearances of all caregivers and she needs to meet with other staff members to discuss Title IX compliance.

“I would assume that would be a question that we’d really have to sit down with, so probably Katherine and I would have to have a conversation.  We’ve never had that, but because there are other children in the house, some of the moms may want to make sure there is clearance,” said Foley

Aubrey Wood, sophomore psychology and occupational therapy major, and WWC participant has been searching since last fall for someone to watch her daughter.

“I would like background checks, child abuse clearances and just to know that the person is qualified and OK to be with my child,” said Wood.  Her daughter suffers with asthma so she also needs to know that a caregiver would be able to dispense medication if needed, said Wood.

Pohlidal does not feel as though it is in the best interest of the university to accept babysitters who are not students at the university.

“I am more resistant to that idea, actually.   I would like babysitters to be students with clearances and some basic training,” said Pohlidal

Some WWC participants have been unable to attend important functions because they don’t have qualified sitters.

Wood has opted out of speaker presentations that were recommended by professors for extra credit because she has no qualified sitter.

“I can’t bring my daughter in, especially when she’s cranky. (The presentations) are around 8 p.m., and that’s the time she is going to bed so she’d be screaming.”  Wood said that she would not want the presenter or the audience to be distracted by the commotion.

Foley said the source of funds needed to pay for clearances and students who are willing to volunteer must be determined.

“If someone is willing to volunteer, are they going to be willing to pay for clearances?” said Foley.

Foley said many students received clearances to fulfill service learning requirements, but she is unsure if they would volunteer for babysitting duties.

“But there’s no guarantee you are going to get people who are willing to do that,” said Foley.

Another issue is which campus department would be responsible to find and then maintain the pool of qualified student babysitters.

“To me, it might make sense to consider it a part of Campus Ministry or even Mercy Integration. They fall under the same umbrella along with the Women with Children Program,” said Pohlidal.

One group of students affiliated with Campus Ministry, Kids on Campus, has volunteered to occasionally entertain  children in the WWC program during each academic year.

“The only time I have someone watch my daughter is Kids on Campus,” said Wood.

The volunteers play games, provide snacks and complete crafts with the children, and WWC participants say that has enabled them to complete class assignments or study.

“All of the students who volunteer with Kids on Campus have their clearances through Campus Ministry,” said Pohlidal.

Foley said the decisions would fall to the WWC program and that the policy could change if necessary.

“It’s going to look at liability for the children, most importantly, as well as liability for the university.  So that’s probably what’s going to make a determination on what kind of policy should be in place.  If we need to, the policy can change to state there’s no babysitting in any university owned building.”

When the WWC Program opened in 2000, it housed six families. Today, the program can accommodate ten families, including up to 20 children.