What happens to children when a solo parent has an emergency?
January 9, 2012 6:17 AM   Subscribe

What if you are alone with small children and you must call 911 for a serious injury to you (the carer)?

I am sure there is an easy answer to this, but I'm googling it wrong (and only finding results about endangering children by leaving them alone or how to call 911 in child abuse situations). I'm primarily interested in the U.S., but curious about how it's handled in different places.

I've been curious about this since my neighbor, who was new to town and had a 2-year-old, had a heart attack in the middle of the night. The commotion woke me up and I ran outside to see what was wrong, only to be given charge of the toddler (for the next two days). Which I was happy enough to do, but they didn't know me very well at the time (we've been friends several years now, but they'd only known me a couple months then) and I wondered what would have happened had I not been there.

Anyway, now that I have two tiny people of my own, wondering sometimes becomes worrying -- if I were at home alone with them (my husband's job is now too distant for him to get home quickly in an emergency) and had to go to the ER in an ambulance, what would happen to the children, particularly if I were incapacitated? Or to a single parent? Where does the age of the child matter? At a certain age do they come along with you? Or does a cop just sit with them? Do they call a social worker? What happens with tiny babies?

I'm sure we have enough emergency responder mefites that this will get answered fast and I can stop worrying about it at 3 a.m. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Law & Government (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
In an emergency with children, first responders and police will try and contact your spouse/family member (they will try to find a cellphone -- so I always have "EMERGENCY CONTACT" listed with my spouses number). They will talk to them.

If no one is available, they can do a number of things. Sometimes the children are brought to the hospital until someone is reached, to the police station (or an officer stays at the home with the child), or Children's Aid comes and takes care of them.

But when there's ambulances, fire trucks, etc. neighbors get concerned and in time of need communities can band together.

It's scary, but trust me, you're babies won't be left alone.
posted by Danithegirl at 6:34 AM on January 9, 2012

Anecdote, data, and all that, but when I was the small child in this situation, I seem to recall I was taken to the hospital with my mother until my father arrived. I don't remember where they stuck me at the hospital while they were caring for my mother; I was only about two at the time.

(Depending on their age, you might consider teaching your kids how to make a 911 call; the part that's stuck with me the most about that incident is that I was the one who had to do it since Mom couldn't reach the phone, and a big part of the reason I didn't have a major toddler freakout about the whole thing was that she was still able to calmly dictate to me exactly what to say to the 911 dispatcher.)
posted by dorque at 6:59 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

A family friend had a medical emergency while driving with his small kids. He pulled into the driveway of the nearest house and the ambulance met him there and took him to the hospital. His kids stayed with the people in the house (strangers) until their mom could come get them later in the day. This was arranged by the police without consultation with either or the parents.

I don't think there is a standard policy for this other than "put the kids wherever you can as long as it seems basically probably safe".
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:33 AM on January 9, 2012

Well, it's not a 911 situation but our son's day care's policy is if they can't get a hold of you and you're late, police take them to the station. I would guess the same thing would happen--police would attend your child/children until parents/guardians come by.
posted by stormpooper at 7:56 AM on January 9, 2012

there was an episode of Louie about this exact situation this season. His sister was visiting and he had to make a decision to take her to the hospital and leave his children with his next door neighbor who he did not know. The moral of the story is get to know your neighbors
posted by any major dude at 8:39 AM on January 9, 2012

Best answer: I had to go to the ER once when I was a SAHM to a 1-year-old. My husband was able to be there for my daughter, but I asked the people in the hospital what would have happened if he wasn't available, and they said "She would come to the hospital with you and we would call a social worker to act in loco parentis until more stable arrangements could be made."

Emergency respite care exists within the foster system for exactly this reason; I have a friend who worked with our local DSHS to receive babies and very young children immediately when they were removed from untenable situations. Basically she was on call all the time to drive anywhere in a 3-county area to get kids and take them back to her house for up to three days. It was an amazing but heartbreaking job in a lot of ways.
posted by KathrynT at 9:22 AM on January 9, 2012

In addition to your husband's number listed in your phone as "emergency contact" you could add another contact file labeled "emergency 2" or "emergency neighbor" with the phone number & address of a neighbor it would be safe to leave the kids with. Of course, you'd want to clear it with your neighbor before doing that, and they'd need to be home during the emergency, but putting the note in your phone for emergency personnel to see would let them know that you've vetted that neighbor as a safe caretaker. Growing up pre-cell phones, we had the numbers & addresses of a couple of neighbors by the land line phone for the same reason. They all had kids and would have no problem looking after us in an emergency. Just a suggestion, if you have any neighbors you know well enough.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 9:31 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had this same question when I had kids. Mr. ambrosia is a former ER doc, and the hospitals where he worked had social workers to make sure the kids were taken care of if they were brought to the ER with the ailing parent.
posted by ambrosia at 9:33 AM on January 9, 2012

Best answer: I used to work in EMS and this happened about a dozen times that I can think of. We had a few default plans of action depending on age.(These plans assume there is no one to take the child, I worked in a rural area so it's probably more common there.)

If they were old enough to wear a lapbelt we'd put them with the driver and show them cool buttons . If they weren't old enough for a lapbelt and there was a carseat on scene, we'd stick them in the carseat and put the carseat in the back with the gurney and secure it via a floor strap. Carseated babies usually had a light blanket (you know the crappy EMT blankets, right?) tossed over them* so they didn't get splattered/ see anything traumatic. We would radio in that we had a minor (or two) with us and a social worker would take them for cookies and juice and whatnot in the hospital play area until someone could come get them.

*This wasn't protocol, it was just something I did because it seemed right. I only had one kid hate the blanket, but 10 minutes of crying isnt so bad, is it? In my defense, I was doing CPR all the way to the hospital anyway. Talk about nerve wracking.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 9:50 AM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

dorque: "Depending on their age, you might consider teaching your kids how to make a 911 call"

"Call 911" (or the regionally-appropriate number) will probably be repeatedly taught at school, but this will very likely assume that you just pick up the phone and press those buttons. If an emergency arises when you're near a corded landline with a dial tone that's great, but it's also quite likely that you'll only have a smart phone, a simpler cell phone, or a cordless phone that's trying to act like one of these. Remember to make sure that your children know how to work with the phone(s) that they might be using:
  • where to look for the phone,
  • how to unlock the keypad in order to dial,
  • how to find the phone app/function,
  • how to get the phone to display a keypad instead of a contact list, and
  • how to press "SEND" or "TALK" or "CALL" or whatever to complete the call.
I went over this with my older son after we gave up our landlines and I quiz him about every so often. This is reminding me that it's time to start doing the same thing with his little brother.
posted by Songdog at 10:26 AM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I do know my neighbors and have an extensive list of emergency numbers in my phone and on the fridge. I just figured neighbors can't always be available and was curious what happened then. Good to know!

(In fact, the one time I did have to go to the ER with child in tow, I was able to drive myself, and I called a friend who worked close to the hospital and had enough control over her workflow to leave her office for an hour. She met us at the hospital and took charge of my toddler until my husband was able to get back into town and take over.)

And ugh, Songdog, another thing to worry about. I guess I'll probably create a "911 button" like "the grandma button." That's easy enough.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:51 AM on January 9, 2012

I got really good care (for my son) at the local ER, thanks to a nurse who stood up for us. I went back later with a note for that nurse, plus a board book for some kid who might be brought in and need a little softer environment during a wait like this.

We also taught all the kids to sing our name, address, and phone number -- to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" -- as soon as we could.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:56 AM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

We used "Old MacDonald."
posted by Songdog at 4:11 PM on January 9, 2012

If your town had a crisis nursery, your children might be sent there. When I volunteered at the one I linked to, I can't remember a case where we had a kid come in because their parent had been injured right then, but we did have several sets of children we cared for in more long term medical emergencies. One set of siblings stayed with us overnight once a week while their mother had chemotherapy. Another set came to us weekly for respite care, so that their grandparents could have a break from caring for them after both parents were killed in a car accident.
posted by MsMolly at 6:50 PM on January 9, 2012

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