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Care@Work / Care@Work Blog / What Is Backup Care?

What Is Backup Care?

Patrick Ball on February 26, 2015 05:47 PM

Daycare just called. The heat isn’t working and they won’t be open today.

It’s snowed 2 feet (or 4 inches in some areas). School is closed.

Your nanny just texted. She has the flu.

Baby has an ear infection. He can’t go to daycare (again). 

For working parents, the struggle is real. Juggling personal and professional responsibilities can be daunting on a normal day (as if there is such a thing). But when it hits the fan? Forget about work-life balance – something’s gotta give. 

As millions of working moms and dads can attest: Deadlines don’t wait for child care needs, and care necessities don’t wait for deadlines to be met. So when the daycare center closes, the nanny calls in sick or the stomach bug hits home, it can mean stress level midnight for working parents. 

Why does this matter to businesses? Enterprises are losing tens of billions annually due to caregiving-related issues such as absenteeism, presenteeism, employee stress and other lost productivity costs. 

And that’s why leading employers – including President Obama and the federal government – are looking to backup care programs as a way to help employees find solutions for care gaps and emergency care needs. 

But what is backup care? And how does it work? Glad you asked. 

The short answer is: Backup care is having a plan in place for when a care-emergency happens. Some people have a family member they can lean on – sometimes. Sometimes dual-income parents alternate which one of them misses work.

But for employers, it means helping your employees with their situational care needs in order to prevent workplace disruptions, absenteeism and productivity loss. It means a a cure for workplace absenteeism. 

There are two main types of backup or emergency care programs: In-home and in-center. In-home programs would typically involve a local caregiver, like a nanny, coming to your house. With an in-center care program, the employer typically reserves a number of spots at local child care centers, where employees can drop off their kids when their own daycare center is closed.  

For example, with’s Workplace Solutions programs, the in-home caregivers would be pre-screened child care, special needs or senior care providers who committed to being available on short notice. The in-center care option utilizes a network of thousands of top child care centers nationwide, capable of caring for children from 6-weeks-old to school age. 

When Would I Use Emergency/Backup Care?

Sick children, school vacations, nanny car trouble or even aging parents – these types of unexpected or emergency care needs can make it hard for employees to focus on their work and support their family at home.  

That’s where backup care programs come in – to provide reliable solutions to those care gaps that would otherwise force working moms or dads to call out of work, miss a deadline or reschedule and important meeting. 

Sounds Awesome. Is Backup Care Really a Thing?

Yes. Well, sort of. It's getting there. 

Currently, only a small percentage of employers -- about 8 percent of large organizations and 4 percent of small businesses, according to FWI’s 2014 National Study of Employers -- are providing back-up or emergency care for employees to utilize when regular child care arrangements are unavailable. 

But there’s a growing trend toward enterprises thinking about the role that family-friendly lifestyle benefits, from backup care to dry-cleaning pickup, play in organizational health and employer brand. 

For example, backup care got a big shout out earlier this year, when President Obama announced his proposals to strengthen the middle class and working families through broadening access to paid leave and quality child care. 

Similar to the way the President is framing childcare as a “national economic priority,” business leaders are coming to understand that holistic employer-provided benefits programs are no longer a nice-to-have- they’re a need-to-have for those who want to remain competitive as an employer of choice.

Forget about social justice -- they’re looking at it as smart business. 

Beyond utilizing care assistance benefits as a way to attract and retain top talent, enterprises are realizing family-friendly programs can have a positive impact on productivity and organizational performance.

Absenteeism is expensive – it costs employers an estimated 9 days a year per employee and 6 percent of total payroll – and that’s not to mention the price of presenteeism and employee stress. 

Access to quality care helps families to find better work-life balance and lets employees work more hours each week and more days each year. So when that phone rings with their next care crisis, they just pick it back up and call for backup.

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