Ginger Vieira, a health coach, record-setting power lifter, and camp counselor who has lived with type 1 diabetes for 12 years, is a young woman who is not easily intimidated.
Still, a fright during one of her first babysitting stints, at age 14, taught her a valuable lesson about watching children with type 1. A feisty fifth-grader yearning for a bit of food freedom ate some chocolate candies on her watch, assuring her that he was allowed to have candy that evening, and Vieira backed down. The result: high numbers.
"His parents hadn't given me his exact insulin ratios. Because he was such a responsible kid, they thought he would keep himself in line," Vieira says.
As any current or former babysitter knows, it can be easy for something to go awry -- one reason many parents of children with type 1 diabetes are loathe to leave their children with sitters unfamiliar with the disease. Experts agree that it's a great first line of defense to hire a sitter who has type 1 diabetes him- or herself, since if and when problems arise, that background knowledge may come in handy.
The Benefits of a Veteran
It's not only the parents who worry about diabetes care. "Our lives have changed due to not being able to leave our kids at home with a sitter, as the high school girls we have had in the past are scared of giving a shot and doing blood sugar tests," says Melissa Lordemann, whose 5-year-old was diagnosed with type 1 in January.
Of course, even a sitter with type 1 can encounter unexpected situations, as Vieira knows. But they still have a leg up on the uninitiated. "They know all the different variables of day-to-day life, and there are so many small details that you really only learn if you have the disease or if you're a parent of a child with the disease," Vieira says. "It obviously helps that I have type 1 diabetes, so there's an immediate trust and faith between parents and myself."
Meeting an older child with diabetes will help provide a good role model for your son or daughter, too -- as long as your sitter has been managing her own care well.
"Interview candidates carefully and be very direct by saying, 'I'm looking for someone who is responsible in their own diabetes to help take care of my child,'" Vieira says.
Where to Look
Finding a sitter with type 1 diabetes -- or one who has other helpful qualifications -- may be easier than you think. Here's where to start:
Seek a match online. SafeSittings.com is a free national website that offers a matching service for parents seeking sitters with type 1, founded by a teenager with type 1. Care.com, another service that matches caregivers with families, is also a great resource for sitters with diabetes know-how. Posting or searching is free, but a $35 per month subscription is required to continue the conversation online with someone about a job.
Find family friends. Swap care with other parents of children with diabetes or hire local teens with type 1 experience. To find support nearby, see the American Diabetes Association's Family Link search, the JDRF's local chapters, or the Family Support Network on childrenwithDIABETES.com.
Search for students. A nearby college job placement office may be able to find you a student with type 1 diabetes. Or, check nursing schools: A nursing student may have basic medical know-how like checking vital signs and giving injections. Keep in mind, though, that any babysitter you choose will need to learn the same basics you would share with grandparents or teachers: how to test, how to administer insulin, and what your child's baseline is. "Just because students have a medical background doesn't mean they know how to handle diabetes in the real world," Vieira says.
Hire an American Red Cross-certified babysitter. The one-day Red Cross program aims to teach kids 11 to 15 years of age safety basics, sound decision-making and how to respond in emergencies. Consider sending your favorite sitter to the course for some extra peace of mind.
Have an at-home break. If you still don't feel comfortable leaving the house, having an extra pair of hands on the scene may at least give you a break. "Some sitters have been great about coming over and playing with the boys, so I can have some 'me' time and take a nice long shower, or just get caught up on housework," Lordemann says.
Every parent needs some time-off once in a while. With a competent stand-in on call, you can put your mind at ease as well.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the "typical" experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.