We’ve written about professional boundaries several times from the perspective of how to maintain your own boundaries when working so closely with families. Here’s a twist…how do you manage boundary issues when you see them happening between a colleague and a family? Let’s consider an example.

The Babysitter

Alexis has been working with Enzi’s family for almost a year and began the journey with them just after Enzi was adopted from another countrWoman Holding Babyy. Alexis has been there for the family through some very emotional times and bonded quickly with Enzi’s mother because Alexis had also experienced an international adoption with her daughter. Because of Enzi’s complicated medical and developmental needs, it was challenging for the family to find a sitter they trusted. As Enzi’s service coordinator, you have also known him and his family since he came home. On a visit with Alexis and Enzi’s mother, you hear them talking about weekend plans and realize that they are scheduling when Alexis will arrive to babysit Enzi so that his parents can go to a neighborhood picnic. You aren’t sure how to handle the situation in the moment. What do you do?

Getting Too Close

It’s definitely possible that EI professionals can get too close to families while working together, especially when they have something so important in common. We care deeply about the children and families we support. As the service coordinator, an important part of your responsibility with each family is to monitor how services are provided, and how boundaries are maintained is part of that. As a service provider, it is a critical and often challenging part of your responsibilities to know where to draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Do you think Alexis crossed the line?

Getting too close poses several troublesome possibilities:

What if Enzi’s parents end up having a concern about the service they receive from Alexis? How comfortable will they be with addressing this with her or you after they’ve gotten too close?

What if something happens to Enzi while Alexis is babysitting? What impact could that have on the family? On Enzi’s services?

What happens to Alexis’s ability to remain professionally objective? Can she really do that when she is too close?

When A Colleague Crosses the Line

Sure, we can and should be friendly and supportive, but stepping in and doing things like babysitting, bringing our own children to a visit for peer interaction, or joining families on weekend outings means we are getting too close and could jeopardize the intervention relationship. It also means that we aren’t helping the family access resources within their own networks that will continue with them long after they leave our programs. Crossing that line changes the relationship, even with the best of intentions.

Repercussions for the Provider

Once Alexis becomes a friend who babysits, she is likely to lose her objectivity and could begin pushing her own agenda on the family. She also may be putting herself in the difficult position of having to accept or refuse other requests – to babysit again, to get groceries on the way to the visit (yes, this happened to me), to watch the child while the parent runs a quick errand during a visit. Entering an emotional, personal relationship will also make it difficult for her and the parent to discuss potentially challenging issues, such as disagreements about intervention strategies, equipment needs, service frequency, or transition options.

Repercussions for the Family

From the parent’s perspective, Enzi’s family may have been very grateful to have a babysitter they trusted. However, had something happened to Enzi while Alexis was alone with him, it could have been very uncomfortable for them. They would then be faced with handling that situation knowing that they would be seeing Alexis again on the next intervention visit (versus firing a sitter they never have to see again). Enzi’s parents could be faced with backing out of that relationship which is difficult for everyone. If they eventually wanted or needed to change providers or services, having a personal relationship with Alexis could make it very difficult for them to get what Enzi needs, if that “it” isn’t Alexis.

What Should You Do?

As the service coordinator, you aren’t your providers’ keeper, but you are there to protect the family’s rights. It’s a difficult situation but in this case, you must address the issue with the family and with Alexis. Even if you aren’t a service coordinator, you regularly consult with colleagues and could be in the same situation. I’d love to know how YOU would really handle this situation.

Would you address it immediately with Alexis and the family, or would you talk to Alexis after the visit first? What would you do

48 comments on “A Provider Offers to Babysit…What Do You Do?

  • Ana says:

    A situation like the one described can be easily preventable through provider training and communication. As service providers we must learn to identify when we are at risk of crossing boundaries with a family, and we should feel open to share with colleagues and managers. Although being providers do not make us immune to feelings and emotions, service coordinators and therapists alike can recognize when a situation is too close to home to have an objective look. It is obvious that in the situation above there was no proper training involved and now action is required. As an service coordinator I would meet with the interventionist to discuss the circumstances and assist the person in finding out a solution that would promote the well-being and the mental health of the child, his family and the provider.

    I know that the best teacher for me has been my experiences (bad more often that good). Learning is in all paths of life. This experience will be a great lesson for the interventionist; and hopefully the lesson is learned early enough that is free of bad outcomes.

    Reply
    • Very well said, Ana. Good training and awareness make a huge difference. I think that sometimes situations like this don’t come up enough in training so a provider can find herself in the situation of being asked to babysit without much preparation for how to handle it. It can be hard because we know saying “no” will make the parent uncomfortable too. Finding an alternative that promotes everyone’s well-being, as you said, is the best course of action. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Felicia Rosiji says:

    I would immediately discuss the implications of the family’s request with Alexis. It is better to be safe than sorry in situations like these. The family may have great intentions for asking Alexis to babysit, but they may realize that it may not be the best idea once they hear all of the potential negative/risky outcomes that could arise from this babysitting arrangement. I also believe that service coordinators shouldn’t be allowed to babysit under any condition, in order to completely avoid the sticky outcomes and keep things objective and in mind of the child, Enzi. I believe that once the family is exposed to some of the concerns expressed in this blog post, they would understand why a regulation would prevent the service coordinator from babysitting the child receiving the early intervention services.

    Reply
    • Thanks Felicia. Yes, it can definitely be a sticky situation for a service coordinator, but like you said, even with good intentions (perhaps on both sides), it’s still crossing professional boundaries. I’m glad you would have a conversation with both the family and Alexis – both may need support and follow-up from the service coordinator to understand why this isn’t permitted.

      Reply
  • Meagan Romano says:

    If I were Alexis I would feel very overwhelmed in this situation. I would think that it would be overstepping professional boundaries by fulfilling the babysitting role the family has asked for Alexis to fill. If something were to happen to the child during that weekend of babysitting that could change the entire dynamic of the professional relationship with the family and could later affect the effectiveness of the services being provided. Gaining an emotional connection to the family can alter how conversations go and also what information is being mentioned because now the relationship is not professional. If I were Alexis I would talk to the rest of my team about the occurrence and figure out a positive professional way to inform the family that the babysitting task is not something that our services provide.

    Reply
  • Angie auyeung says:

    I would discuss it immediately with the family and Alexis. I would not talk to them in a kind tone, trying not to offend them because I know both the family and Alexis had good intentions, however it is still crossing a professional boundary. I would discuss different alternatives or compromises that the family could instead try. As said in the article, Alexis could lose her professional standpoint with the family and rather have a more personal relationship with the family making it difficult to discuss professional aspects.

    Reply
    • Discussing alternatives can be a helpful approach, especially if the parent asked because she really doesn’t have any other options for child care. Did you mean that you WOULD talk to them in a kind tone of voice? If not, how would the conversation sound?

      Reply
  • Serena Ranmal says:

    As someone who has always been around children, I love being close to children and being able to be a support and a role model for them. I can understand how Alexis loves her relationship with the family and the child because she is so close to them. However, as a professional, it is important for her to understand that if she is agreeing to babysit she is crossing the line from being a service provider to a good family friend. I would definitely approach Alexis about the situation as well as talk to the rest of my team to show her that babysitting is not apart of ECI professionalism. There could be severe consequences if Alexis agrees to start babysitting for the family in her relationship with them as well as the intervention process for the child and the family.

    Reply
    • That’s a very important point to make – both to Alexis and the family. They need to know (or be reminded) about the possible effects the change in relationship could have. Plus, both may need a reminder about program policy, which always discourages this kind of informal interaction.

      Reply
  • Urooj Arshad says:

    In this situation, I would address the issue immediately with Alexis alone first and then with the family. Alexis should know from prior training that this is overstepping boundaries and that it may complicate future visits should anything go wrong. I would simply explain to her why agreeing to babysit and making a less professional situation is not ideal for her. I then would explain this to the family with Alexis there, and I might try to recommend some well-trusted baby sitters or refer them to service.

    Reply
    • I think the tricky part would be explaining to the parent, with the therapist present, that babysitting would be crossing a professional boundary. I really like your direct approach, but know that you’d also have to be careful to preserve your relationship with Alexis. You could probably do that by taking some of the “heat” off of Alexis and talking about program policy. It’s a delicate situation, for sure.

      Reply
  • Olivia Courtney says:

    If I were in that position, I would discuss the situation with Alexis shortly after the visit. This would avoid any discomfort between Alexis and the family following the conversation. I feel as though being direct about this with both, Alexis and the family present would, in a way, undermine Alexis’s professionalism and create a very awkward environment. I would encourage Alexis to have a conversation with the parents about potential resources they could take advantage of for babysitting services and remind them of what she is there to do. This puts the situation back in her capable hands as a professional. Typically scenarios like this, I would imagine, are detailed in training. Being aware of how to deal with requests like babysitting in an appropriate manner should be mastered before going out into the field.

    Reply
    • I agree, Olivia, that you would want to avoid that discomfort for all involved and avoid questioning your colleague’s professionalism in front of the parent. It may very well be an awkward discussion after the visit, but it needs to be addressed.

      Reply
  • John Tadros says:

    One of the things I have learned is that early childhood intervention services are family based. If a provider were to babysit the child, it would go against the motto of early childhood intervention. In addition, by having a provider babysit, it would undermine the family’s ability to provide for the child. Not only does having a provider babysit go against some of the broader aspects of early childhood intervention, it would even be detrimental to a child’s development. I have learned that a child learns best in his or her natural environment. That natural environment usually consists of the familiar faces, such as family, and familiar environments, such as homes. If a provider comes in all of a sudden one day and tries to take care of the child, the child will be confused. The child may exhibit anxiety towards stranger faces. In addition, the provider may not come in with the same affection towards the child compared to the parents. Hence, the provider may not be able to effectively sooth the child when in distress. These two stressors in the long run can then hinder proper neurological development. That strange face and the different environments may not allow the child to learn best.

    Reply
    • Lots to consider here. My guess is that, when a family asks a provider to babysit, the family would probably know the provider pretty well so he/she might not actually be a stranger. Crossing this boundary, whether as a stranger or familiar person, could definitely affect the relationships, which could intern affect services the child receive.

      Reply
  • Sallie Goach says:

    We just talked about this in class last week. I would talk to Alexis first and remind her of the issues that might arise in regards to professionalism and crossing the line between performing her job and being a friend to the family. I would then discuss the situation with the family and explain that there are policies in place that prevent Alexis from participating in the care of their child outside of her professional responsibilities. I think that just being honest about the situation is the best way to go.

    Reply
  • Noah Wilson says:

    This seems like a situation in which their is a lot of potential to have a problem whether the helper decides to babysit or not. Clearly if Alexis, decides to babysit there are the aforementioned problems of becoming to personal with the family as well as perhaps putting them in a uncomfortable position if something happens while babysitting. Additionally, if she says no it may also cause some friction with the relationship. I think the best course of action is sit down and talk with the parents to discuss the boundary of their relationships. Similar to a therapist creating boundaries with a patient meeting them outside of work. Once there a mutual understanding I think that will alleviate future problems as well as foster a more healthy relationship going forward.

    Reply
    • Great point, Noah. Creating that mutual understanding can be where the service coordinator really helps. Rather than judging the situation as right or wrong, helping all team members understand boundaries can, as you said, foster that ongoing healthy relationship.

      Reply
  • Lindsay Jurica says:

    I would discuss the situation with Alexis and the family immediately. It could potentially be difficult to not cross boundaries but it is important for that to be stopped. A service provider’s job is not to be a babysitter, they are there to provide services that will in turn be beneficial to both the child and the family. In this situation, the family may not be aware of the role of an EI professional, so it is important to discuss that with the family. This problem can be solved through efficient and clear communication.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reminding us of the important of families understanding the roles of service providers! Most of the time, families don’t have a frame of reference for how EI works, so reminding them of the provider’s purpose and why maintaining professional boundaries is important can go a long way.

      Reply
  • Joyce Garcia says:

    It’s hard to say what I would do if I were in this situation. I would like to say that I’d handle it well but while in the moment is a different story. Hopefully, I would pull Alexis away from the family momentarily and notify Alexis that babysitting would be overstepping her boundaries and should not be agreed to.I would then get back with the family and explain to them why service providers aren’t allowed to babysit. After I explain, I would advise Alexis to deny the family of babysitting with a proper explanation as to why, and maybe notify the family of other things she is not allowed to do as a service provider as well as the things she is allowed to do. Then I would tell Alexis to talk with family again and make sure that they get the proper help they need for a babysitter.

    Reply
    • I appreciate your honesty here! I think you do your best in the given situation while respecting all team members. Explaining why babysitting is not allowed (to both the parent and Alexis) is key.

      Reply
  • Diana Cañas says:

    Good afternoon,

    I would ask if I could speak with Alexis and the family separately. I would tell Alexis that this situation is not okay and let her know I will be speaking with the family to inform them that it is not okay. I would also try to prevent these situations in the future by providing training to providers and ensuring the understand the implications that come when they get too close to a family and start babysitting or spending free time with them.

    Thank you

    Reply
  • Helen Varghese says:

    I think I would address the situation with Alexis first. I would explain to Alexis that as service providers, we have to keep things professional with families or it can get difficult in some situations. I would also let her know that I understand her situation because when you’re working so closely with a family, it’s easy to get attached and feel that you can do anything the family asks you to. I would also advise her to speak to the family about not having a personal relationship with them. I would provide her support as a service provider by being present during the conversation and speak to the family as well about the policies of ECI.

    Reply
  • Kalina Lemaire says:

    Hi Dana!

    I believe that providing an alternative measure rather than having someone that is part of the team babysit Enzi would be the best thing to do in this situation. The most important aspect for me in this situation is the long term effects on Enzi’s family. At some point this intervention program will end and IFSP will no longer be a part of Enzi and his family’s life and they will have to use their own resources/networks to access help when needed. I think that establishing this early on by not having Alexis babysit for the family would allow for the “awkwardness” to be tackled early on in the process and ensure that boundaries such as are not crossed again in the future. It is so important that the family does know that the team does have the best interest of Enzi and them at heart, however, that it is shown in different ways such as encouraging them to reach out to their own community when needed instead of leaning completely on the service provider and their team. That is how optimum growth and outcome for the family will be reached.

    Reply
    • Perfectly stated, Kalina! Meeting this short-term need can definitely have long-term effects on the family AND the team member relationships. Helping the family to reach out to their community is capacity-building too.

      Reply
  • Cami Hill says:

    I would ask to speak with Alexis individually, as I don’t want to put her in a situation in which she feels uncomfortable. I would start by reassuring Alexis that I understand her reasoning behind wanting to babysit for Enzi. Then, I would explain to Alexis the meaning behind having a professional relationship with the family and how babysitting could potentially hinder that professional relationship. I would also talk with the parents of Enzi and direct them towards resources where they can find potential babysitters that have experience working with children with disabilities. This way, the parents can have a professional relationship with Alexis, while also feeling reassured that they will be able to find a trusting babysitter for Enzi.

    Reply
  • Cameron Kuehn says:

    If I were in this situation, I would talk to Alexis shortly after the visit. It is important that Alexis understands the possible implications of becoming too close to the family, but it is not necessary to create a sense of awkwardness between Alexis and the family by addressing the issue immediately with both parties. I would address the issue at a later time with family and explain that while service coordinators are happy to spend time with the child and aid them in their growth, they are should not become too close with the family because it could lead to unanticipated issues with service in the longterm.

    Reply
  • Hannah Fiske says:

    I would handle this situation by addressing it immediately with Alexis and the family. I would not want anything wrong to happen while Alexis is babysitting, so I would try to stop it as quickly as possible. It can blur the line between the relationship the service coordinator and family should have. If Alexis would become too close to the family, it could lead to Enzi’s parents feeling uncomfortable to raise concerns down the line. However, most importantly, Alexis must remain professional and mindful of her boundaries as a service coordinator. Getting too close to the family will make it increasingly challenging to perform a service coordinator’s proper duties. Therefore, it must be dealt with immediately so Alexis can understand it and reform her actions.

    Reply
  • Alex Posner says:

    Hi Dana!

    As soon as I heard the plans of Alexis crossing this boundary I would go to her and ask her to think of all possible alternatives. This would require immediate action because once Alexis crossed this boundary, it would be too late to save the situation. As the service coordinator, of course Alexis knows the child best, but that does not mean professional boundaries should be crossed. Having Alexis use her knowledge about the child to find a fitting babysitter would be the most professional thing to do. Alexis could train the sitter to know the ins and outs of Enzi’s habits and preferences. This then sets up the opportunity for a a long-term sitter as well as the opportunity for Alexis to do the right thing so she can remain Enzi’s family’s service coordinator.

    Reply
  • Dede Nguyen says:

    Hi Dana!
    I definitely agree with you on the points here and really liked the vivid and very real example you provided here. While Alexis’s intentions may have been good, the short term reward of babysitting for Enzi’s family doesn’t really add up to the consequences that it may have on the intervention relationship. Although it may seem like a one time kind gesture, babysitting Enzi can lead to other personal ventures, which may ruin Enzi’s access to intervention if they are not satisfied with Alexis’s care. I think tackling this issue early on with Alexis and the family would be most beneficial so that everyone involved is aware of the boundaries that need to be set in order for the intervention to be successful and uncomplicated.

    Reply
  • Ana says:

    If I were in Alexis’s position, I may find it difficult to turn down a family that I care about, but I would not babysit Enzi because I know it would be best for everyone involved. I would kindly explain that overstepping professional boundaries by babysitting for the family may seem harmless at the moment, but there may be negative consequences later on. I would address the potential consequences that may occur so that the family has a better idea of why these boundaries are set in place. For example, I would want the family to feel comfortable enough to confront me with concerns they may have with the way that I provide my services. However, if a close relationship was established between me and the family, they may avoid addressing these issues so as not to make things awkward between us. Maintaining a professional relationship is therefore crucial in order to support Enzi and Enzi’s family in the best way possible.

    Reply
  • Camila Martinez says:

    I would talk to Alexis first as I don’t want to make the family uncomfortable or create any kind of discordance in front of them, then I would find a solution and provide the family with other alternatives so that way they can find a babysitter without crossing any boundaries

    Reply
  • Ashley Mendenhall says:

    I would confront Alexis about the situation immediately alone so that she understands and agrees with the expectations and requirements her job entails. I think also so that she fully comprehends her position and how babysitting can compromise her professional relationship. Then with Alexis I would discuss babysitting with the family and have Alexis aid me in explaining Alexis’s position so that as the provider it is clear their one job is to help the child grow. I think then that if it is addressed immediately everyone is on the same page with the expectations that are expected of Alexis.

    Reply
  • Chibuzo Igweh says:

    I would speak with Alexis immediately after the visit because it may be uncomfortable for both her and the family if I did it during the visit. I would tell her that she is getting to comfortable with the family and advise her not to accept any more offers of that kind. Also, I would advise her to speak to the family about how she can no longer accept offers like babysitting for their own success.

    Reply
  • Masha Pobedinsky says:

    I would discuss it immediately with Alexis. It is a part of her professional responsibility to maintain these boundaries. I would speak to her first to give her the opportunity to resolve the issue herself, because I would want her to be empowered as the provider to refer to her training and education. It is paramount that ECI service providers maintain boundaries so that extra personal relationships do not undermine the services.

    Reply
  • Amy Trevino says:

    I would address the issue immediately with Alexis and the family. I think because we are providing family-centered care, they family should be aware of why things are done and know that their best interests are being considered. At the end of the day you must comply with the policies and procedures set in place that clearly state Alexis should operate only within the boundaries provided by their education, training, and credentials. There must be professionals boundaries, and unfortunately or fortunately for the sake of the family, there must be equity in services. Any outside relationship with the family must be reported to supervisors. At the end of the day, taking on a babysitting role may exploit the providers position of trust and influence on the family.

    Reply
  • Kambry Russell says:

    I personally believe that it would be best to address it individually with Alexis in order to give her the opportunity to fix the situation. Bringing up the conversation for the first time with both Alexis and the family present may put Alexis in an uncomfortable position in which she may not know immediately how to react in a professional way. Alexis being the family’s provider and babysitter is a major conflict of interest for many reasons. I would wait until after the visit to explain to Alexis why this is inappropriate and ask that she set more professional boundaries. If Alexis refuses to talk with the family, then I would take it upon myself as soon as possible to talk with the family about how it is not appropriate for Alexis to babysit. I would then connect them with a resource that could provide babysitting if they needed one.

    Reply
  • Miki Haruki says:

    In this situation, I would discuss with Alexis about the implications crossing a professional boundary might result in. With Alexis being the family’s provider, it is important for her to be in a position that is approachable for the family to come to with any questions but also someone they can confront if there is a problem with their IFSP. Getting too close to the family and overstepping professional boundaries may make it harder for Alexis and the family to work with each other later on. If I were Alexis, I would refer them to a babysitter or help them look for one instead of taking on the role.

    Reply
  • Marlene Huerta says:

    As a service coordinator, I would adress the issue immediately with Alexis and the family. As we read above, failing to respect boundaries can create very serious issues for the family and for the provider. With that being said, with a very understanding mentality, I would remind both of them about professionalism and how babysitting interferes with the boundaries created to protect the family, Enzi’s development, and the providers objectivity. Adressing the complications of crossing boundaries with both of them and discussing how this would affect Enzi on the long run would be very beneficial in order to maintain a good professional relationship.

    Reply
  • Alejandra Rubio says:

    I would talk to Alexis first privately. It would be best to make sure she fully understands her responsibilities and the consequences of crossing boundaries could lead to. After Alexis understands and is aware of her position, I would work with her to find a solution to work with the family. Finding resources for the family and an alternative that best helps the family and child is the best option. It is important to keep a good relationship with the family, but it is also important to maintain boundaries.

    Reply
  • John B says:

    While The family may have great intentions for asking Alexis to babysit, I agree that its be in everyone’s best interest to avoid crossing professional boundaries. Alexis can offer her experience with international adoption within her job description as a service coordinator. I would intervene in this situation by raising Alexis’ awareness of the potential repercussions for both herself and Enzi’s family. A coordinators decision making ability may be compromised if they have a conflict of interest from developing personal relationships with members of a family.

    Reply
  • Victoria Rankin says:

    When faced with a situation like this I would start out by talking with Alexis. Bringing up the implications of what could happen if Alexis was to cross these professional boundaries while still on Enzi’s team. When discussing these hopefully Alexis will realize that she is in fact crossing that professional boundary and reach out to the family. It is very easy to get close to these families, but to give the best to them they also need to keep their distance. Being excited about the child’s progress and talking about it at a visit is one thing. Moving into a role that is outside of the provider can be dangerous for the child’s development which is the last thing anyone wants in EI and for the family. Once discussing all of this with Alexis then it would be time to sit down with the family and relay the professional boundaries that are needed and why they are in place. When they realize it is in place to protect themselves and their child then it should be evident to them it is best to maintain these boundaries.

    Reply
  • Jennifer Castillo says:

    If I was there I would bring up the subject immediately right after the visit with Alexis. I would tell her how she should be creating certain boundaries between her and the family, in that way we can all be sure that nothing interfered and/or effected the outcome of the child and the families. It would also be unfair for her to give preferential treatment to this family and not the others she interacts with. Their relationship should strictly be professional in order to avoid the possibilities of any disagreements, for the good of the child.

    Reply

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