Babies get sick.  Spouses go out of town.  Daycares close for a week.  Nannies have emergencies.  In short, there’s always an opportunity for a childcare crisis to rear its head at any moment.  Enter: back-up childcare.  A benefit many employers provide, but that new parents often don’t even know about or understand.

I haven’t used a back-up childcare benefit myself, but I just interviewed three alumae of the Mindful Return Course, Orley Granot, Sabrina Hurst, and Liz Lapetina, who have.  Each of their employers offers some form of back-up childcare as an employee benefit, and they have each had the opportunity to use the benefit for care of their little ones.

Here’s our interview:

Q:  It’s fantastic that your employer provides back-up care as a benefit!  Who provides the care?  Is it through a particular company?  Is it center-based, home-based, or a combination of the two?

A:  Orley:  The care is facilitated through a program called “Back Up Care Advantage,” and you have the option of center-based or home-based care.

Sabrina:  Care is provided through Bright Horizons.  You can bring your child to one of their day care centers or to a partner center.  (They partner with La Petite Academy, for example.)  My care has been on the weekend when the centers are not open, and they have sent a nanny to our home. If your child is sick and can’t attend a center when they are open, they will also send a nanny to your home.

Liz:  My employer offers back up childcare in a daycare center or nanny service available in your home or hotel setting.  Bright Horizons is the overall provider, but a variety of centers (e.g., Kindercare) are available.  They work with local nanny agencies, including Loving Care Home Services.

Q: How many days of back-up care are provided?  Is there any cost to you?

A:  Orley:  I get 20 days per calendar year.  For the initial three sessions, there is no co-pay.  After that, it is: (a) Center-Based: $25 for one child per day, or $40 per “family” per day; and (b) Home-Based: $8 per hour.

Sabrina:  Our benefit is for 10 days/events a year.  A day/event is a minimum of 4 hours, but a maximum of 10.  If we use only 4 hours, it counts as a day against our balance.  In other words, it doesn’t matter if you use 4 hours or 10, it counts as 1 day/event.  There is no splitting of days (i.e. 2 hours today and 2 hours tomorrow).  There is no cost to us.

Liz:  I get up to 30 days per year.  Center based care is $20 per family per day.  In-home care costs $6 per hour.

Q:  What did you have to do to get signed up or registered for the benefit?

A:  Orley:  I had to submit some consent and health-related forms.  I also had to confirm my identity as an employee and provide my insurance and credit card details.

Sabrina:  I did have to register.  You can do it online or over the phone.  It was simple!

Liz:  As an employee, you establish a profile with Bright Horizons, providing information about your family, home environment for nanny care (e.g., pets, other people who will be in the home, etc.), and child (age, habits, allergies and medical conditions, etc.).  For each day that care is needed, you fill out a request form listing the date, hours, etc.  You have the option of requesting that Bright Horizons try to use (or not use) the same agency or caregiver as was used in the past.

Q:  Under what circumstances have you used it?  What led you to use it?

A:  Orley:  I have used it when my nanny has been unavailable.

Sabrina: I was working the weekend, or as in the case right now (as I type this…lol!), I am out of the country on business over the weekend.  We can also use it for days when daycare/school is closed, but it is not a work holiday (e.g., Good Friday.)

Liz: My nanny has occasionally had PTO days when my husband and I would prefer to work or need to work.  For example, she was out for 2 days for jury duty.  We have used the back-up nanny services in these situations.

Q:  What have been the best things about your experience with back-up care?

A:  Orley: I use the phone booking service (as I would rather speak to an individual than make a booking through an app), and the ladies are always friendly and helpful.  So far, I have used two different centers and both have been fabulous.  They are clear with their instructions (as to what to bring) and the caregivers have been wonderful.

Sabrina:  They use local professional nannies and care centers.

Liz:  The childcare providers have been wonderful and established good relationships with our daughter.  Additionally, they are very flexible on hours and timing.

Q:  Did you experience any challenges when you used the benefit?

A:  Orley: I wish we could have access to more than 20 days (even if we had to pay extra), because I am now needing to find a new nanny, and it would help with the transition.

Sabrina:  None yet.

Liz:  Personally, no, I have not had any challenges.  I have heard, however, that when people try to arrange back up in-home care on the same day they need care, Bright Horizons is not always able to find a caregiver.

Q:  Any advice you’d give a new mom using back-up childcare for the first time?

A:  Orley:  Take advantage of it!  The center-based staff (at Bright Horizons Columbus Circle and 4 Times Square) treat my daughter so well.

Sabrina:  USE IT.  Don’t hesitate to call if your child is sick, and you think you need to get work done from home.  My son was home with a fever one time, and I didn’t use the back up care – instead I wanted to “work from home” and be with him to comfort and nurse him.  Several fire drills broke out, and I wished I had called them!

Liz:  Feel free to take a little time at home with the back-up provider, to build up your confidence that your child is developing a good relationship with them.

Q:  Any advice you’d give to someone advocating to their employer that they add back-up childcare as a benefit?

A:  Orley:  This service makes a parent’s life so much easier (which means being available to work when needed).  I don’t have to worry (as much) if my nanny is unwell or unavailable.  Or if my child is sick and can’t attend her regular daycare center.

Sabrina:  They will get more work days from Mom/Dad with less stress, if there is reliable care for their littles. Our kids will get sick, and there will be holidays that don’t match up with work.

Liz:  I would make it clear that this benefit allows employees to make critical meetings / work commitments and avoid unexpected missed days of work for things like runny noses, caregiver conflicts, etc.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A:  Orley:  This service is great.  Whether your child is looked after by a nanny or in a childcare center, having a back-up care benefit allows you the flexibility should (1) your nanny be unavailable, (2) your child care center be closed on a public holiday, or (3) your child be unwell and unable to attend childcare.

Thank you, Orley, Sabrina, and Liz for all of this fabulous advice.  (You have absolutely motivated me to go figure out how to use my own back-up care benefit!)

Orley Granot:  Orley is an Australian working in New York as an attorney.  She has a beautiful and vivacious 15 month old and wouldn’t have it any other way.  The best thing about going to work, she says, is returning home to see her girl.

Sabrina Hurst:  Sabrina is a new mom to 13 month old Elijah, and works “more than full time” for a major technology company in Houston, TX. She enjoys chasing her little man around and is always looking for ways to get more sleep!

Liz LapetinaLiz is a management consultant specializing in health plan operations and mom to daughter Anna.  She and her family live in Eden Prairie, MN, where they enjoy walking their dog, hiking, and checking out new kid-friendly restaurants on the weekends.

Have you used a back-up childcare benefit?  How did it go?  Please share your experiences in comments below!

Want more practical advice on the return to work after maternity leave?  Join the next session of Mindful Return.

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