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School's Closed, Now What?

This winter has added another stress to the workday for some working parents.

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    Snow days have become aggravatingly routine this winter for people in the Tri-state area. And while kids may love waking up to the news that they don't have to go to school, snow days don't always mean no work for parents. On the contrary, some parents find themselves scrambling to find child care for their children before they begin their workday.

    "My husband and I have to switch who calls out every other time," Jennifer Zimmermann-Pulcher posted on our Facebook page. "We have no family near us and usually daycare closes."

    When we asked working parents how they handled snow days, we got a variety of answers and found some solutions more common than others.

    Christopher Gianguilio, a single dad, said, "In cases like that my son either comes to work with me or stays at his grandparents."

    "I take the day off work. I'm lucky," said Sarah Donza-Hughes. "I have a wonderful and understanding boss but I am sure that isnt the case for most."

    "Panic!" said Renee Focht Burns. "I am a single working mother of 2 school aged kids.....It's been a very stressful winter!"

    Sometimes employers themselves realize this added stress and include child care services in their employee benefits package.

    Bright Horizons is one example of an employer-sponsored child care service. The company contracts their service to companies such as PNC Bank and Sunoco, Inc., which offer the drop-off care services to their employees.

    Bright Horizons Communications Manager, Julie Kane says this winter, there has been a significant increase in back-up child care requests in Pennsylvania. In February alone, there were 87 requests for drop-off service compared to just 20 requests in February of 2013.

    Another local employer who supplies child care service to its employees is The University of Pennsylvania. Specifically they have a snow day child care program that employees can use. They take children as young as 12 weeks and as old as 12 years at their Penn Children's Center located at 3126 Chestnut Street.

    Human Resources Director of Quality of Worklife Programs, Marilyn Kraut explained this program was put into place in 1995 after the bad winter of 1994 so employees had the option of child care when schools were closed for snow.

    "We've been down this road before," she said regarding this winter.

    Parents who don't have the benefit of child care from their employers may face decisions that cost money. Eileen DiGiacomo felt the pinch today. She's a dental hygienist. "We don't have sick or vacation days. My husband went in and he works until I am told what my schedule looks like or if we cancel and then he comes home if I have patients to see. Today we cancelled and I lost a day's pay."

    Lost wages, and sometimes lost time for working parents who have to use a vacation day to stay home. And the option of finding a sitter or day-care often means paying out of pocket, unless you've set your life up like Li Longo, who responded to our Facebook post today saying her kids just went to work with her. "I started my own business and made it parent and child friendly. It is ridiculous that companies don't understand that our kids come first. So I started a company where they do."

    For families who can't take their kids to work, can't find a sitter and have to hunt for another last-minute option, there are some child care organizations that will take care of kids on snow days. Play and Learn is one option. They have 12 locations in Montgomery County and charge $65 for a full day of care.

    On snow days this winter, on average, they've taken care of 2-to-3 additional children at each of their facilities. In addition to the children they already have enrolled, they are equipped to handle between five to ten extra children on snow days. Executive Director of Play and Learn, Judith Cooper says they’ve never ran out of space.