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A Provider Offers to Babysit…What Do You Do?

We’ve written about professional boundaries several times from the perspective of how to maintain your own boundaries when working so closely with families. Here’s a twist…how do you manage boundary issues when you see them happening between a colleague and a family? Let’s consider an example.

The Babysitter

Alexis has been working with Enzi’s family for almost a year and began the journey with them just after Enzi was adopted from another countrshutterstock_142581889y. Alexis has been
there for the family through some very emotional times and bonded quickly with Enzi’s mother because Alexis had also experienced an international adoption with her daughter. Because of Enzi’s complicated medical and developmental needs, it was challenging for the family to find a sitter they trusted. As Enzi’s service coordinator, you have also known him and his family since he came home. On a visit with Alexis and Enzi’s mother, you hear them talking about weekend plans and realize that they are scheduling when Alexis will arrive to babysit Enzi so that his parents can go to a neighborhood picnic. You aren’t sure how to handle the situation in the moment. What do you do?

Getting Too Close

It’s definitely possible that EI professionals can get too close to families while working together, especially when they have something so important in common. We care deeply about the children and families we support. As the service coordinator, an important part of your responsibility with each family is to monitor how services are provided, and how boundaries are maintained is part of that. As a service provider, it is a critical and often challenging part of your responsibilities to know where to draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Do you think Alexis crossed the line?

Getting too close poses several troublesome possibilities:

What if Enzi’s parents end up having a concern about the service they receive from Alexis? How comfortable will they be with addressing this with her or you after they’ve gotten too close?

What if something happens to Enzi while Alexis is babysitting? What impact could that have on the family? On Enzi’s services?

What happens to Alexis’s ability to remain professionally objective? Can she really do that when she is too close?

When A Colleague Crosses the Line

Sure, we can and should be friendly and supportive, but stepping in and doing things like babysitting, bringing our own children to a visit for peer interaction, or joining families on weekend outings means we are getting too close and could jeopardize the intervention relationship. It also means that we aren’t helping the family access resources within their own networks that will continue with them long after they leave our programs. Crossing that line changes the relationship, even with the best of intentions.

Repercussions for the Provider

Once Alexis becomes a friend who babysits, she is likely to lose her objectivity and could begin pushing her own agenda on the family. She also may be putting herself in the difficult position of having to accept or refuse other requests – to babysit again, to get groceries on the way to the visit (yes, this happened to me), to watch the child while the parent runs a quick errand during a visit. Entering an emotional, personal relationship will also make it difficult for her and the parent to discuss potentially challenging issues, such as disagreements about intervention strategies, equipment needs, service frequency, or transition options.

Repercussions for the Family

From the parent’s perspective, Enzi’s family may have been very grateful to have a babysitter they trusted. However, had something happened to Enzi while Alexis was alone with him, it could have been very uncomfortable for them. They would then be faced with handling that situation knowing that they would be seeing Alexis again on the next intervention visit (versus firing a sitter they never have to see again). Enzi’s parents could be faced with backing out of that relationship which is difficult for everyone. If they eventually wanted or needed to change providers or services, having a personal relationship with Alexis could make it very difficult for them to get what Enzi needs, if that “it” isn’t Alexis.

What Should You Do?

As the service coordinator, you aren’t your providers’ keeper, but you are there to protect the family’s rights. It’s a difficult situation but in this case, you must address the issue with the family and with Alexis. Even if you aren’t a service coordinator, you regularly consult with colleagues and could be in the same situation. I’d love to know how YOU would really handle this situation.

Would you address it immediately with Alexis and the family, or would you talk to Alexis after the visit first? What would you do? 


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12 Comments to “A Provider Offers to Babysit…What Do You Do?”

  1. A situation like the one described can be easily preventable through provider training and communication. As service providers we must learn to identify when we are at risk of crossing boundaries with a family, and we should feel open to share with colleagues and managers. Although being providers do not make us immune to feelings and emotions, service coordinators and therapists alike can recognize when a situation is too close to home to have an objective look. It is obvious that in the situation above there was no proper training involved and now action is required. As an service coordinator I would meet with the interventionist to discuss the circumstances and assist the person in finding out a solution that would promote the well-being and the mental health of the child, his family and the provider.

    I know that the best teacher for me has been my experiences (bad more often that good). Learning is in all paths of life. This experience will be a great lesson for the interventionist; and hopefully the lesson is learned early enough that is free of bad outcomes.

    • Very well said, Ana. Good training and awareness make a huge difference. I think that sometimes situations like this don’t come up enough in training so a provider can find herself in the situation of being asked to babysit without much preparation for how to handle it. It can be hard because we know saying “no” will make the parent uncomfortable too. Finding an alternative that promotes everyone’s well-being, as you said, is the best course of action. Thanks!

  2. I would immediately discuss the implications of the family’s request with Alexis. It is better to be safe than sorry in situations like these. The family may have great intentions for asking Alexis to babysit, but they may realize that it may not be the best idea once they hear all of the potential negative/risky outcomes that could arise from this babysitting arrangement. I also believe that service coordinators shouldn’t be allowed to babysit under any condition, in order to completely avoid the sticky outcomes and keep things objective and in mind of the child, Enzi. I believe that once the family is exposed to some of the concerns expressed in this blog post, they would understand why a regulation would prevent the service coordinator from babysitting the child receiving the early intervention services.

    • Thanks Felicia. Yes, it can definitely be a sticky situation for a service coordinator, but like you said, even with good intentions (perhaps on both sides), it’s still crossing professional boundaries. I’m glad you would have a conversation with both the family and Alexis – both may need support and follow-up from the service coordinator to understand why this isn’t permitted.

  3. If I were Alexis I would feel very overwhelmed in this situation. I would think that it would be overstepping professional boundaries by fulfilling the babysitting role the family has asked for Alexis to fill. If something were to happen to the child during that weekend of babysitting that could change the entire dynamic of the professional relationship with the family and could later affect the effectiveness of the services being provided. Gaining an emotional connection to the family can alter how conversations go and also what information is being mentioned because now the relationship is not professional. If I were Alexis I would talk to the rest of my team about the occurrence and figure out a positive professional way to inform the family that the babysitting task is not something that our services provide.

  4. I would discuss it immediately with the family and Alexis. I would not talk to them in a kind tone, trying not to offend them because I know both the family and Alexis had good intentions, however it is still crossing a professional boundary. I would discuss different alternatives or compromises that the family could instead try. As said in the article, Alexis could lose her professional standpoint with the family and rather have a more personal relationship with the family making it difficult to discuss professional aspects.

    • Discussing alternatives can be a helpful approach, especially if the parent asked because she really doesn’t have any other options for child care. Did you mean that you WOULD talk to them in a kind tone of voice? If not, how would the conversation sound?

  5. As someone who has always been around children, I love being close to children and being able to be a support and a role model for them. I can understand how Alexis loves her relationship with the family and the child because she is so close to them. However, as a professional, it is important for her to understand that if she is agreeing to babysit she is crossing the line from being a service provider to a good family friend. I would definitely approach Alexis about the situation as well as talk to the rest of my team to show her that babysitting is not apart of ECI professionalism. There could be severe consequences if Alexis agrees to start babysitting for the family in her relationship with them as well as the intervention process for the child and the family.

    • That’s a very important point to make – both to Alexis and the family. They need to know (or be reminded) about the possible effects the change in relationship could have. Plus, both may need a reminder about program policy, which always discourages this kind of informal interaction.

  6. In this situation, I would address the issue immediately with Alexis alone first and then with the family. Alexis should know from prior training that this is overstepping boundaries and that it may complicate future visits should anything go wrong. I would simply explain to her why agreeing to babysit and making a less professional situation is not ideal for her. I then would explain this to the family with Alexis there, and I might try to recommend some well-trusted baby sitters or refer them to service.

    • I think the tricky part would be explaining to the parent, with the therapist present, that babysitting would be crossing a professional boundary. I really like your direct approach, but know that you’d also have to be careful to preserve your relationship with Alexis. You could probably do that by taking some of the “heat” off of Alexis and talking about program policy. It’s a delicate situation, for sure.

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