linux.conf.au 2013: "The response to offering conference childcare has been overwhelming"

Conference childcare is one possible way to make attending conferences easier for women. Mothers are disproportionately likely to be primary carers for children, and, particularly for out of town events, may therefore be unduly burdened with finding and paying for childcare in order to attend events.

Australia's premier open source conference, linux.conf.au, is offering formal childcare for the first time at their 2013 event next week. To help share their approach with other conferences, the Ada Initiative interviewed Lana Brindley, one of the core linux.conf.au 2013 organizers, about their childcare plans.

Lana: linux.conf.au 2013 is offering free childcare, provided by qualified childcarers, for children aged 0-12 during the conference sessions. Children must be signed in and out for each session, just as in a normal childcare arrangement at at a centre. Care is being provided in a room close to the main conference, so that parents can come and go easily.

There's more info on our blog and in postings to the parents mailing list.

Footpath through trees on the the Australian National University campus, by Stephen Dann CC BY-SA

linux.conf.au 2013 venue: the Australian National University, by Stephen Dann CC BY-SA

Why is LCA 2013 offering childcare?

Lana: We recognise that many of our delegates are parents. Parents that come to the conference don't always have the ability (or inclination) to leave their children with relatives or other carers while they are travelling. By offering childcare at the conference, we are providing parents with more choice about how they would like to spend their time at linux.conf.au. With any luck, it means that parents can bring their children with them to conference, and both parents and children can enjoy the week much more.

Has there been strong demand for childcare?

Lana: This is the first time childcare has been offered at the conference, and only the second time that a parents' room has been made available (linux.conf.au 2012 in Ballarat offered a parents' room for the first time). Because of this, we really didn't know how many parents would be interested in using the service. However, demand has been quite high, and we will probably be close to the maximum number of children we can comfortably look after.

How did you find room in the conference budget to offer free childcare?

Lana: We investigated a number of different options for providing childcare, and after some looking around we were lucky enough to find two qualified childcarers who were willing to provide childcare for the conference. The cost to the conference compared with our overall budget is relatively small. Most of the costs are associated with fitting out the parents' room with appropriate equipment and entertainment for the children. If future conference organisers want to run childcare, then a lot of that equipment could be reused. The idea is that, by offering childcare, we enable more delegates to attend the conference, so the budget should balance.

How difficult was it to arrange childcare?

Lana: Once we had contacted the childcarers and they had agreed to come on board, we held a meeting where we went through a lot of the legislation related to childcare, and discussed what requirements they had to provide care for the week. We then set about making sure we could stick to those rules and regulations. It wasn't difficult, necessarily, but there have been a lot of things to consider, such as making sure we maintain proper child:carer ratios if a toddler needs to go to the bathroom, and where to safely store formula and breastmilk.

Would you recommend other conferences make similar arrangements, or (having organised it once) can you suggest improvements to LCA 2013's arrangements?

Lana: At this stage, I'm confident that our childcare will be successful, and after spending some time with our childcarers I have utmost faith that they will do a great job. However, this is something that is new to linux.conf.au, and I have no doubt that we will run across things during the week that we can learn from.

I would absolutely recommend other conferences consider offering childcare (either for free, or for a nominal fee). The positive response to this initiative has been overwhelming, and hopefully if it becomes a regular feature of linux.conf.au (and technical conferences generally), it will help to encourage parents, and especially women who are primary childcarers, to attend conferences that they might otherwise not have gone to.