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As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Canada, some parents may be worrying about who will take care of their young children if they become too ill to do so themselves.

When asking relatives or friends to care for your children means potentially spreading the disease, there are no tidy solutions. But make an emergency plan, even if it’s imperfect, says Diane Paradis, a social worker in the complex-care program at CHEO in Ottawa.

Here’s what to consider:

What is your current set-up?

If possible, stock up on two weeks’ worth of essentials, Paradis suggests. That way, if you become ill, you’ll have enough supplies to reduce the need for anyone in your family to leave the home.

She also suggests designating a place in your residence, such as a separate room or basement, where you may be able to isolate yourself if you become infected.

When it’s developmentally appropriate and age appropriate, involve your children in discussions about these plans, she says. Some children may be able to take on some of the household responsibilities. For instance, teenagers may be able to look after younger siblings.

And if they don’t know already, inform your children about what to do in an emergency, such as when and how to call 9-1-1, she says.

For parents of infants, the World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s okay to touch and hold newborns if you have COVID-19; having that close contact helps babies thrive. But wash your hands before and after touching your baby, and make sure you routinely clean and disinfect surfaces, it says. Mothers with COVID-19 can also breastfeed their infants, the WHO says, although they should wear a mask if possible and cover their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze. If you are too unwell to breastfeed, the WHO suggests expressing milk, using donor milk or trying relactation (restarting producing milk after a period of stopping breastfeeding).

Who can you designate as an emergency caregiver to your child?

Start by reaching out to people in your network, says Bryan Shone, executive director of the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton.

You may be reluctant to ask someone to take care of your child, Paradis says, “but in this pandemic, I think we have to be open to the possibility of relying on our networks. … Generally, people want to help, are caring, are kind. … Try not to see it as a burden to someone else.”

It’s not yet clear how much of a risk it may be to send your child to live with someone else. According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, there is no documented evidence of child-to-adult transmission of COVID-19, nor are there any documented cases of a child bringing an infection into the home.

Once you have identified your emergency caregivers, discuss with them the needs of your child and their routines, Paradis says. This is especially important if your child has a medical condition. Make sure your family’s pediatrician, hospital care team and respite or nursing care providers are aware of your plan, and that you give your consent for them to provide medical guidance to your alternative caregiver if needed, she says.

She also suggests preparing a bag for your children, packed with all the things would need if they go to a caregiver’s home.

Write down the names, addresses, telephone numbers and other contact details of alternative caregivers for your child, Shone says. He advises keeping that information with you. That way, if you’re hospitalized, it is easily and clearly accessible so hospital staff or child welfare workers can contact them.

What if you have no designated emergency caregiver?

Making alternative child-care plans can be more complicated for parents who do not have partners, extended family or friends, Paradis says. She encourages families to reach out to their child’s care team, if they have one, to help come up with possible solutions. This team may include social workers and health care providers at their pediatrician’s office or hospital.

If you need to go to the hospital and have no one to take care of your children, take them with you or contact your local Children’s Aid Society, Shone suggests. (If you bring them with you, the hospital may call the Children’s Aid Society for you, he says.)

Shone emphasizes that the Children’s Aid Society is focused on keeping children with family members they know and with people with whom they are connected.

“In those types of situations, we really are there to help,” he says, adding that only in rare cases are children placed into care.

Even if that happens, he says, the Children’s Aid Society would continue to look for family members and would consider the circumstances behind why the child needs placement. For instance, if you have COVID-19, you may start to recover within a few weeks, so child-welfare social workers would work with you to ensure your child can return as soon as possible, he says.

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