Finding a way to balance a demanding EMS career is challenging.

Add the responsibilities of family life and the whole balancing act can feel downright daunting. That’s why it’s important to have a good plan and lots of resources at your fingertips to manage both you child care needs and EMS career. In this article, we share some ideas about how first responders make the family equation fit with their careers.

The balancing act of child care and an EMS career

No parent is immune to getting that call from the school nurse with news about their child running a fever or sustaining an injury on the playground. The words, “Please pick up your child immediately,” often follow this call.

That simple request from school personnel can be a tall order if you work long shifts and have no backup support.

When Boston-area flight nurse Catie Graham RN, BSN, CFRN, is cruising at 120 mph and 2,500 feet above the ground, she can’t radio the pilot to land the helicopter so she can pick up her daughter from school. Thankfully, Graham has plenty of backup child care options. Her career depends on it, and so does her family.

“This is not like any other nursing job I’ve had before,” Graham said. “The hours are unpredictable, and you are not as available to your family as you would be at sea level.”

It’s quite the balancing act to manage family and career, according to Graham, which is largely based on social and cultural norms. She sums it up with an interesting paradox.

“We expect women to work as if we don’t have children and raise children as if we don’t work.”

You need a crew

So how does she do it?

Since Graham typically works the early shift, her husband Brian picks up and drops off their daughter at school, and he also handles snow days when she’s on duty. Thanks to his flexible schedule, the couple makes it work.

“My husband is self-employed. I would not be able to do my job if it wasn’t for the flexibility of his job,” Graham said.

She also relies on family members and friends to fill in child care gaps when her husband can’t.

“It’s like the whole family has the job.”

Child care for EMS

Finding child care as an EMS can be tough. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help!

Still, she doesn’t want to wear out her welcome with family members. That’s why she keeps a list of friends and neighbors on whom she knows she can rely when she needs it.

Graham said it’s important to recognize that friends and family may feel resentful if you rely on them too much or if you don’t offer to pay for their time.

Her best advice? Ask for child care help and plan ahead. Unexpected events will occur, so you need to have a backup team. Having different people in place ahead of time gives Graham peace of mind when she’s at work.

Need 24-hour options?

Since 12- or 24-hour shifts are part of the EMS profession, finding overnight care can be particularly challenging, especially if you have very little family support.

Turning your kids over to complete strangers is not easy for any parent.

So how do you find trusted and reliable child care?

When searching for providers, it’s important to know if the facility or in-home day care provider is licensed and carries a solid track record for providing quality care, says Julia Anderson, communications specialist with the Colorado Office of Early Childhood.

“In Colorado, the state licenses child care programs to make sure they meet health and safety requirements,” she said. “Licensed child care programs are monitored every year and are the best, safest option for children.”

But how do you know if a provider has a good scorecard for quality care?

Anderson said each state has a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for child care. For example, in Colorado, the quality of child care and preschool programs is based on the following criteria:

  • How well they support the health and safety of children.
  • Can they ensure staff are well-trained and effective?
  • How well they provide a supportive learning environment.
  • Do they engage parents as partners in their child’s learning?
  • How well they demonstrate good leadership and business practices.

Making a list of reliable child care resources for EMS

When looking for reliable child care, consider the following components:

  • Find state-licensed child care facilities: In many cases, staff generally must maintain CPR certification, and it limits how many children a caregiver can have under their care.
  • Take a tour of the facility: It’s helpful for you to meet the staff and observe how they interact with children.
  • Visit childcareaware.org to find local resources: The organization offers facility inspection reports, along with death and serious injury reports annually by state.
  • Need 24-hour care? Consider an au pair: These live-in caregivers can offer greater flexibility based on odd hours or shift work needed in an EMS career.
  • Additional options: childcare.gov connects families to resources in their state. Another option is Care.com, which helps parents find 24-hour care options.

That you know the ins-and-outs of child care, make some time to maintain your certification!