Attending the conference? Bring the kids!

Smart conference organizers have realized that arranging sideline events for the conference-goers' children is a good way to keep stress levels down and attendance up. Rachel Dornhelm reports.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Some might think professional gatherings are a great chance to get away from the kids for a couple of days. But smart conference organizers have realized that arranging sideline events for children is a good way to keep stress levels down, and attendance up.

From San Francisco, Rachel Dornhelm reports.

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RACHEL DORNHELM: AIf the American Dental Association is on the cutting edge of anything, it's probably tooth decay or gingivitis. But convention childcare?

SOUND: [Children singing]

Believe it or not, this is the ADA annual meeting in San Francisco, or part of it. It's a mobile daycare center filled with toys and art supplies -- 125 kids from six months to 12 years play here while their parents attend classes.

Laura Nichols dropped off her eight-month-old daughter. She says she and her husband need to attend conferences like this to keep their licenses current, but usually they need to bring a grandparent or baby sitter.

LAURA NICHOLS: We just went to a small Arizona conference a couple weeks ago and brought an extra person and an extra hotel room -- and we just drove to that. But the cost of that far superceded using the kids camp here.

Here Nichols pays just $40 per day. That's thanks to the ADA which kicked in $50,000 for the program. For the past 11 years, the ADA has hired a company called ACCENT on Children's Arrangements, that organizes conference child care.

DIANE LYONS: We sometimes say, "Have toys, will travel."

ACCENT president Diane Lyons founded her company in 1991. Before that, she was an event planner. She says she hated leaving her kids in hotel rooms with unfamiliar baby sitters on business trips.

LYONS: People didn't want to know you brought your children. They wanted your kids somewhere else, so you could be focused -- when really, it helps a parent to focus if you know your child is being well taken care of, and they're entertained.

Lyons says her work presents special challenges. She needs people trained to work with kids in unfamiliar environments, and she has to fly them from place to place.

LYONS: We see children on a very short-term basis, so we need to have a lot of safety and security issues in place. We do computerized ID badges with bar codes and pictures.

Those kinds of measures are expensive. At some conferences, the organization foots the bill. Sometimes they'll use an outside sponsor like a food or diaper company.

Barbara Scofidio is the editor of Corporate Meetings and Incentives magazine. She says planners are happy to drop $30 an hour for each bartender -- so why not 15 for childcare providers? And childcare is worth the expense, she says. Convention planners are under pressure to bring in more attendees. More people will go to events if they know they can bring their kids.

BARBARA SCOFIDIO: It's an incredible opportunity for children to see places they've never seen before, too, and have memories of their parents working that are not just face-to-the-computer all day, or looking at their Blackberry every minute.

It's got to be done right, of course... Twelve-year-old Alexis Pallacer from Illinois came to the ADA meeting. She said it was much more fun than some of the business trips her parents have taken her on.

ALEXIS PALLACER: I really didn't want to have to go to a baby sitter's, or something like sit through the classes. I've had to do that once and it was really, really boring.

Scofidio says making kids a part of conventions can give them a better understanding of the work their parents do. And if they can't come on the next trip, at least they'll know it's not all fun and games for their parents. Well, not all the time.

In San Francisco, I'm Rachel Dornhelm for Marketplace.

Special thanks to Marketplace from American Public Media for permission to use this material.