By Kristen Chandler
When it comes to finding someone to take care of your children when you are unable to, trust is already a big issue. When you have food allergic children whose allergies are life-threatening, finding someone who you can trust to take care of your children for an extended period of time is even more difficult.
Yes, we entrust our children to others when we leave them at school. However, at school, there are nurses who are close by, and most school personnel are now trained on how to use auto-injectors. Also, every child who has some kind of health concern or disability has an emergency action plan. My children’s plans have a complete breakdown of any scenario that could arise at any place they might be, whether on campus or on a school trip. We experienced some food allergy bullying this year, and I still go on every field trip and try to be present at every party that my children have at school. But one of the benefits of living in a small town is that I personally know most of the teachers and administrators at my children’s school. And most of them go above and beyond their jobs when it comes to taking care of students who have special circumstances. And every teacher and staff member is now trained to use auto-injectors, which is a big step for our small town.
And then there’s daycare and after-school care, which is a similar situation to school. Also, there will be occasions when you will have to hire a babysitter, or you may choose to get a babysitter rather than doing day camp or something similar during the summer. You go through the process of not only selecting someone whom you, in general, trust to watch your children, but someone you trust to handle their food and protect them from allergen exposure as well.
But what happens if you have to go out of town, be away from your kids overnight, or be away for a couple of days? Is there someone other than yourself and/or your spouse whom you can trust to keep them safe and keep track of everything? Unfortunately, I know from personal experience that even close family members still don’t fully understand our children’s food allergies.
Sitting This One Out
My younger brother recently graduated from army basic training. His basic training and graduation were held in another state from where we live. I wanted to go very badly. There is actually an almost thirteen-year age difference between my brother and I, so he’s more like another child to me. My parents were planning on going, and I knew that I didn’t really need to take the kids out of school for three days, because it was still an active time during the school year and they would miss several tests. But other than myself, my mom and my step dad (both of whom would be going to the graduation), I couldn’t think of anyone else, even family, whom I could trust to not handle the kid’s school schedule, but to completely be in charge of feeding three kids with severe food allergies. Not to mention, all three take various medications. I mean, I could have left LONG LISTS of instructions and labeled safe foods, but I still would have worried the whole time. Yes, for the most part, my kids know what they can and can’t have. And they are learning to read labels. But they are still kids. They may see something they’ve had, and because they’ve had it a bunch of times before, they won’t check the label. Honestly, there are still some times when I am in the grocery store and possibly in a hurry, and I will grab something that I know my kids have had before and it was safe, only to get home and see that they have added an allergen or “may contain traces of such-and-such” to the label.
I had a relative recently ask me if my son (allergic to milk) could have Pizza Rolls. “No, they have cheese in them,” I responded. Her response was “But they’re not cheese flavored, they’re the four meat kind.” Patiently, I responded, “But they still contain cheese,” then pointed out the cheese (with milk in parentheses beside it) on the label.
Yes, my child knows he can’t eat pizza rolls. But if this relative couldn’t see one of the BOLD allergens on the label, what about the ones not listed in bold print? What about the “May contain” warning listed at the bottom of the label? What about cross contamination? And other relatives have even less knowledge about food allergies. Therefore, my decision was a pretty easy one. I would just have to sit this event out and stay with my kids.
When someone asked me why I didn’t go, I told them it was because I didn’t have anyone to stay with the kids for four days. “No one? There are no other family members who could keep them?” she asked. “None that I trust enough with their food allergies,” was my reply.
Even I Sometimes Make Mistakes
When my son first started school, the lady who was over the nutrition program for our school district called me one evening. “I just wanted you to know that since your son has special dietary needs, the lunchroom staff is required to fix him special meals.” No, thank you. If it were only one allergen we were avoiding, and a mild one, then maybe. But with several life-threatening ones? Not a chance. I politely declined. When she asked why, I told her that unless I could be there and see them prepare the meal myself, I really didn’t trust anyone enough to be as cautious as I was in avoiding all allergens, cross- contamination and cross contact. I preferred to just send his lunch every single day. Because even I, having three children with food allergies and preparing all meals and snacks for them on a daily basis, have made mistakes.
I almost gave my son beef ravioli one time instead of Italian sausage (he has a beef allergy). He grabbed the can out of the pantry and handed it to me without looking. I cooked it without even looking at the can, thinking of course he grabbed the right one because he knows which kind he can have. I served it to him, but thankfully it “looked funny” to him and he didn’t eat it. That was when I checked the can and saw that I had indeed given him the beef ravioli. Thankfully he didn’t eat it. And in that I learned to be twice as careful. But like I said, if I can slip up and I deal with the allergies all day, every day, then it would be just as easy, if not easier, for someone who doesn’t to make a mistake.
Preparing to Trust Others to Care for Food Allergic Child
I love my family dearly, and we do visit family members regularly. But I know that if someone isn’t accustomed to dealing with food allergies on a regular basis, he or she may not be as cautious and careful as I am. And that’s just not a risk I am willing to take right now, if I don’t have to.
However, I am only speaking from my personal experiences so far. I know that there may come a time when I don’t have a choice. I also know that there are many parents out there who will have to (or probably already have had to) leave their children in someone else’s care for an extended period of time, even though they may not have been ready to do so.
Nothing will stop you from worrying; that’s what parents do. But there are some things you can do that will help you maybe not worry as much, in the event that this ever does happen. Be as prepared as you can.
- Leave detailed instructions on what and how to feed your children.
- List out specifically what foods and ingredients to avoid.
- List what foods your child CAN have.
- Label all the safe food (if you have non-safe food in your house, or if you’re like me and your kids are all allergic to different things). You can find custom labels in the MKFA shop.
If you have enough notice (in other words, if you’re not having to leave immediately due to an emergency), meet with the caregiver ahead of time in order to instruct them in person and answer questions.
- Go over label reading, and show them what foods are safe for your child.
- Point out any separate utensils, plates, cutting boards, etc. that you use for your child.
- Go over cleaning techniques.
- Go over when and how to use an auto-injector.
- Make sure they have all emergency contact information on hand.
- If your children are going to being staying away from home, bring their safe food and utensils.
- Stress how important it is to avoid cross contamination while preparing your child’s food.
- Remind them if they have any questions about a food, to contact you or to just not give your child the food at all. Fortunately, we live in a tech-friendly generation, so the caregiver can even take pictures of food labels and send them to you if he or she is unsure.
Also be sure to check out our FREE food allergy “Awareness to Action” toolkit! It has a useful caregiver handout that has important information and reminders, plus plenty of space for you to add your own personalized instructions.
If you have had to leave your food allergic children in the care of someone else for an extended period of time, what are some things you did to ensure a safe stay? We would love to hear your thoughts.