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What Is Backup Care?

Patrick Ball on July 16, 2019 04:45 PM

backup care / ˈbak-ˌəp ˈker / noun:
1. an alternative child care arrangement, made in response to an emergency, an unexpected event, or a disruption in regular, pre-arranged child care
2. a safety net for when a child care emergency happens or normal child care arrangements break down
3. a benefit offered by employers to ensure happy and productive working parents

You’re here because you want the answer to the title of this article: What is backup care? Maybe you’re a working parent who’s heard great things about an employee benefit called “backup care” and you’re curious about what it is and how you can advocate for it at your company. Or, perhaps you’re an HR leader who’s looking to learn about a benefit you keep hearing about, one that can increase employee productivity and happiness, reduce employee stress, and help your company attract and retain top talent. Or, maybe you’re both.

Here’s the first thing you need to know: The need for backup care is universal among all working parents. When life happens (and it will!) – the nanny gets the flu, daycare closes unexpectedly for the day, a last-minute business trip – backup care enables working parents to make it all work. It can be the difference between stressing about missing a deadline and having the stability to be able to still go to work and meet it. Anytime there’s a snag in child care plans, think of backup care like insurance; it fills in the gaps when there’s a disruption in regular child care coverage.

There are two types of employer-sponsored backup care: in-home and in-center.

In-home care programs involve a local caregiver, like a nanny or babysitter, who comes to your house. With in-center programs, employers typically reserve a number of spots at local child care centers, where parents can drop off their kids. The best backup care programs give parents the flexibility and choice to decide which type of backup care works best for their situation and preferences – the decision is entirely up to them.

Using backup care benefits is safe and easy.

Care@Work by’s backup child caregivers are vetted and employed by either or its network of agencies, and are certified in both First Aid and CPR. All backup caregivers are required to complete orientation and health and safety training, and their screening process includes: childcare reference checks, interviews, criminal background checks, national sex offender public website checks, name and address verification and U.S. work eligibility verification. The in-center care option uses a national network of vetted childcare centers that can care for children as young as 6-weeks-old. Both in-home and in-center care options are easy to arrange and pay for either online or via mobile app.

Working parents are increasingly looking to their employers for backup care.

A 2019 Harvard Business School study found that 73% of employees are responsible for some type of caregiving. With nowhere else to turn, and the skyrocketing cost of quality child care squeezing American middle-class families, people are demanding support from their employers. Some progress has been made, yet surprisingly few employers offer backup child care.’s 2019 Cost of Care survey revealed that just 15% of working parents say their employer offers benefits like backup care – but an overwhelming majority (86%) wishes their employer did. This mirrors the availability of employer-provided child care benefits in the marketplace. According to the most recent National Study of Employers, just 7% of companies provide child care at or near the worksite and only 5% offer backup or emergency child care.

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Without backup care, companies lose billions. 

Productivity problems stemming from employees’ child care challenges cost employers nearly $13 billion per year. Without a backup care benefit, when child care plans fall through, people are forced to choose between work and care. For parents, it’s a no-brainer: family comes first. In’s 2019 survey, 74% of moms and 66% of dads said their workdays have been impacted because child care fell through at the last minute. It’s why a majority (70%) of parents said they’ve used sick days and more than half (56%) have come in late due to child care issues. It’s also why one in three moms has lost a day’s pay and why one in four have had to bring their child to work.

Backup care is a competitive advantage for business. 

In a tight labor market, attracting and keeping top talent is a challenge for employers. It’s one of the top concerns among CEOs. Companies are making huge investments in efficiencies and optimization across all aspects of business in order to stay competitive, but the ones that are investing in their people and culture have a clear advantage over companies that do not. Foosball and free lunch are nice perks, but child care benefits like backup care can make all the difference in attracting the brightest minds and hardest workers – and keeping them there.

Child care is having a political and cultural movement. 

The spirit of political activism sweeping the country is having a huge effect on how employees are organizing and advocating for the values they believe in and the benefits they want. At the top of their must-have list: child care. Politicians are taking notice, and that’s why child care is a big part of the conversation leading up to the 2020 presidential election. Candidates are laying out their child care plans for American families, including ideas for universal child care and paid family leave.

In the meantime, working parents are keeping up the fight, demanding child care support from their employers. If you already have a backup care benefit, tell other parents about it! If you don’t, ask for it. Here’s an email you can send to your HR team.

And if you’re an HR leader, you have a critical role to play in solving our nation’s child care crisis. Businesses need to understand that employer-provided child care benefits programs are essential in order to remain competitive as an employer of choice. It’s up to you to make it happen.

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