Are Children Welcome at Your Conferences?

The American Political Science Association came under fire after it banned attendees with babies from entering the exhibit hall at its annual meeting last week. How do associations welcome—or not welcome—children to their meetings?

Every association is sure to roll out the welcome mat for its meeting attendees. But does the welcome mat get rolled up when attendees bring their babies and other children to the conference?

We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause members or attendees, but, unfortunately, we are not able to allow children into the exhibit hall.

Policies vary among associations, but the American Political Science Association (APSA) found itself in the hot seat last week after it banned attendees with babies from entering the exhibit hall at its annual meeting. The word got around after a mom, who was traveling alone with a newborn, tweeted this:

APSA was quick to post an explanation online:

“APSA makes great efforts to be as welcoming and open to all attendees as possible. Conventions of our size require event insurance to secure contracts and use space at any hotels or convention centers. Event insurance does not cover children in an exhibit hall due to liability. We are committed to making the Annual Meeting as convenient as we can, but, unfortunately, this is not an area where we have flexibility. We are pleased to continue offering onsite childcare and a mother’s room for nursing and pumping. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause members or attendees, but, unfortunately, we are not able to allow children into the exhibit hall. We invite you to leave your comments here for discussion.”

Soon after, the attendee, Jordan Kyle, met with APSA President Jennifer Hochschild and began using the onsite childcare that was available.

Even with APSA’s quick response, the incident led to a lot of talk online, both on the web page where the explanation was located and on outside blogs. Some said that APSA needed to find a new insurance carrier or choose venues that allow children, while others noted that they had previously been allowed to bring their children—of all ages—on the show floor.

One commenter said the policy hurts attendees who are parents, writing, “Since many APSA members with children are graduate students and junior faculty, this disadvantage may be consequential for advancement to tenure.” And another added that “drunk political scientists are probably more of an insurance risk than someone walking through with an infant/child.”

For its part, APSA continued to update the page almost daily, telling people it was doing research and would have more details in a few days. Then, on September 9, it posted this news: “APSA is very pleased we will be able to permit children into exhibit halls in future meetings. Details forthcoming.”

Where Other Associations Stand

APSA is not the first association to face criticism for a policy banning children from the exhibit hall. Last year, the National Restaurant Association made headlines after a woman was asked to leave the exhibit hall because she had her 10-day-old infant with her. Like many associations, NRA has a longstanding policy barring anyone under the age of 16 from attending its show—a policy that is included in terms attendees agree to when they register.

One group that does allow infants and other children at its meeting is the Modern Quilt Guild. In a recent post on ASAE’s social network, Collaborate [ASAE member login required], Director of Marketing and Programming Heather Grant shared its policy:

  • Supervised children of all ages are welcome on the show/exhibit hall floor.
  • Children over the age of 10 are permitted in the lecture hall with a purchased pass.
  • Babes-in-arms are welcome in the lecture hall at no cost.
  • No children are permitted in workshops.

Grant added that these policies were established “since most of our membership are mothers.”

In a blog post last year, I took a look at how associations are working to make their meetings more family-friendly. Some, like the American Chemical Society, offer a complimentary full-day camp for children ages 2 to 16, while others subcontract onsite childcare out to a licensed provider or offer childcare grants for meeting attendees who are bringing small children to a meeting or who incur extra expenses in leaving their children at home.

Whatever route an association decides to go—which often depends on cost, member interest, or risk involved—it could draw criticism from attendees. The best way to handle it is probably along the lines of APSA’s response: Address complaints quickly, open up the communication lines, offer to meet with those affected by the policy, and look into whether changes can be made.

What are your association’s policies on children at your meetings and conferences? Or what policies would you like to see associations adopt? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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