Caring for caregivers' children

Caring for caregivers’ children

It’s a challenge that parents faced even before the pandemic: childcare.

Snigdha Jain, MD, MHS, Instructor in Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine Section, and her husband both work as clinicians and researchers. They came to Yale in July 2020 with their 2-year-old daughter Aria at a time when many daycares were closed due to the novelty and uncertainties of COVID-19. Fortunately, Phyllis Bodel Daycare has remained open throughout the pandemic.

Bodel is a nonprofit organization founded by female faculty and postdoctoral fellows at the Yale School of Medicine to provide onsite care for the children of women in medicine. It was named in honor of Dr. Phyllis Bodel, mother of three and first director of Women in Medicine at Yale. The program started in 1979 with seven families. Today, 120 children from 111 families are registered. Bodel’s program caters to children ages six weeks through pre-kindergarten.

“There was this community that was very aware of the health risks of COVID and yet recognized the importance of staying open,” says Jain. She calls Bodel’s COVID-19 guidelines “flexible, appropriate and pragmatic.” While Jain was unable to visit Bodel before leaving her daughter in their care, she was relieved by the constant flow of communication.

“They made us feel comfortable with where our child was despite the fact that we couldn’t see her,” says Jain. “…When I move towards a change in intensive care, as a mother and a clinician, part of my brain is always with my children. Feeling completely at peace to the point that I no longer worry about my child during my working day is the greatest achievement that a daycare center can boast of.

Shortly after enrolling her daughter in Bodel, Jain joined the COVID-19 subcommittee, which continues to engage the community in making safe decisions. In 2021, Jain joined Bodel’s Board of Directors as Chairman. “My experience has been amazing on this team,” says Jain. “Not all of the members are parents, but they have all been so deeply influenced and happy with their experience with the center that they have decided to continue to devote their time to it.”

More than a daycare

Bodel strives to organize unique programming for each child. Activities target all areas of development: physical, social, emotional and intellectual. “Early childhood is such a unique age, and I really think the kind of environment they’ve created allows teachers to see beyond a daycare,” says Jain. “They call themselves a daycare center and I think in the truest sense of the word they are, because they try to take care of the child in a very holistic way.”

Children do a variety of activities throughout the day, indoors and outdoors. For example, they can learn pattern recognition, tend a worm farm, release butterflies, create artwork, or write crazy libs, poems, and songs in groups.

Dennis Shung, MD, PhD, MHS, assistant professor of medicine (digestive diseases) and Stephanie Ng, MD, practicing psychiatrist, take their two children to Bodel. While Shung and Ng work, their children enjoy singing and dancing. “They have fun there and they bring that fun home,” says Shung. “Our house is decorated to the gills with all the art they generated. This stuff is really, really valuable to us.

Shung and Ng appreciate that Bodel strives for his siblings to have the same teachers. The student/teacher ratio is 3:1 for infants and toddlers and 5:1 for children aged three to five. “The teachers are fantastic,” says Shung. “They really care about not only watching the kids and making sure they don’t get in trouble, but also integrating them and providing them with a rich and interactive environment in which they can grow.”

“Our kids have loved every class they’ve been in,” says Patricia Peter, MD, assistant professor of medicine (endocrinology). She and her husband Henry Park, MD, MPH, associate professor of therapeutic radiology, placed each of their children in Bodel at the age of three months. “Their affection for their teachers and classmates has always been very clear.”

Peter and Park are happy with the development of their children since they started at Bodel. “They often try to teach us about parenting by explaining how their teachers handle difficult situations,” Park says. Peter laughed. After graduating from Bodel, their eldest child told them, “When I have a kid, I want to take them to Phyllis Bodel.”

Hands-on childcare at Yale

Besides offering exceptional childcare, Bodel has two major advantages that set it apart: location and hours. The Phyllis Bodel Childcare Center is located on the Yale School of Medicine campus at 367 Cedar St., open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“This daycare is the reason I can be successful in my career,” Shung says, citing the easy filing process, location close to her work, and good hours. “Usually you have to choose between a family or a career, but with Bodel you can juggle both.”

Park and Peter also agree that Bodel’s support has been essential. “It seems to be a key aspect of the university’s mission to support young faculty and staff who have young children through this process which is already inherently very difficult,” Park says. “Accessible child care is so critical to the diversity, well-being, and retention of Yale healthcare providers and biomedical researchers.”

Bodel also strives to be financially accessible. The center is primarily funded by tuition, but is seeking grants for additional support. For single parents, post-docs, or those most in need of financial assistance, Bodel offers scholarships to subsidize tuition. Currently, 10 scholarships are offered each year, but they are working to increase this number.

Additional reporting by Melanie Luna

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