Back-Up Care for Parents

With the number of dual-career and single parent families continuing to rise, so does the need for reliable, quality childcare. For working parents, having access to high quality childcare is of critical importance. For parents with work obligations, when their childcare arrangements fall through, their work plans become in instant jeopardy.

According to Child Care & Parent Productivity: Making the Business Case by Karen Shellenback, the average working parent misses nine days of work per year for childcare related reasons. As children move from daycare to elementary school, the number of days missed increases to 13. The research also cites that 29% of employed parents experienced some form of childcare breakdown in the past three months. These breakdowns leave parents having to scramble for last minute childcare arrangements or having to call into work sick. And calling into work sick is what most parents do, according to a 2012 Parents & Work survey conducted by Flexjobs that found 81% of parents have missed work in order to care for a sick child.

While most parents agree that taking care of a sick child is a priority, many daycare centers refuse to care for children who are even mildly ill, leaving parents with no choice but keep their children home from daycare for minor ailments, like a low-grade fever or the sniffles. Even in-home childcare providers can’t ward off every illness and may call into work sick if they become seriously ill, leaving you left to find back-up care arrangements with little to no notice.  And when schools close for Monday holidays, inclement weather or school vacation, parents of school-aged children are forced to find childcare coverage or stay home and provide care themselves.  Even family and friends who provide occasional care can’t be expected to always be available.

Having a back-up childcare plan keeps a minor setback in the day from becoming an impassible obstacle. When there’s a back-up care plan in place, once parents initiate it they are on their way to securing a qualified, back-up care provider who can fill-in for their regular caregiver, whether they have a moment’s or a week’s notice.

Types of Back-Up Care

Depending on where you live, you may have access to a number of back-up childcare solutions. Doing research on back-up childcare solutions in your area will help you to understand which options are most readily available to you.

Friends and Family

In many families it is not unusual for grandma, grandpa or a trusted family friend to offer to provide childcare when regular arrangements fall through. For these families, friends and family members who live close by serve as their back-up childcare network, pitching in to help out should a childcare dilemma arise. Unfortunately for many other families, family members don’t live close enough to help out. And while they may have friends who do, more than half of all mothers work outside of the home, so asking another working mother to provide back-up childcare for their children simply isn’t a feasible option.  For families who can’t rely on family and friends to provide back-up care, other back-up childcare solutions are necessary.

In-Home Caregivers

Hiring a private, in-home caregiver to provide back-up childcare is often the most convenient and flexible back-up care option. Back-up nannies and babysitters come directly to your home to care for your child where he’s most comfortable. Children thrive in a consistent, familiar environment. When a child’s caregiver changes unexpectedly, having the comfort and security of home can help to make welcoming a new caregiver an easier transition. Since your child will be the provider’s sole responsibility, she can focus on meeting his needs and following your typical schedule and routines. Since you’ll be your caregiver’s boss for the day, you can provide detailed instructions on your caregiving preferences and set your caregiver’s schedule. Most in-home caregivers are prepared to provide childcare for mildly ill children, so if your child is too ill to go to daycare, hiring an in-home provider may be your only back-up care choice.

Center Based

Some daycare centers offer back-up childcare and a few will even provide care for mildly ill children. Parents typically register in advance with the center so that their children’s vital information is on file. When a childcare need arises, parents contact the center to reserve a spot for their child. Since daycares must operate under strict caregiver to child ratios, there are no guarantees that a spot would be available, although most centers who offer back-up care do their best to accommodate parents who need it. Since your child will be going to a center, she’ll need to adapt to the center’s schedule, routine and caregiving style and you’ll be limited to working only within the center’s hours of operation.

Employer Sponsored

An increasing number of employers are realizing the value of providing their employees with access to childcare options. For this reason, more and more employers are providing access to back-up childcare solutions to their employees.  Corporate back-up care solutions can vary, but typically a business either contracts with an agency to provide in-home childcare providers to their employees or contracts with a center to provide childcare access to their employees. Employer sponsored back-up care may be offered at no cost or at a reduced cost to benefit-eligible company employees.

How to Find Back-Up Care

Before you can decide on your preferred back-up care solution, you’ll want to research the options that are available to you in your area.

If you’re looking for family and friends to provide care, spreading the word that you’re in need of back-up childcare will be important in helping you recruit potential providers. Gathering a list of possible providers and asking them if you can add them to your back-up care list can help you know who to call when a childcare emergency arises. Oftentimes children are most comfortable being cared by someone they know and trust.

To find a back-up in-home childcare provider who is not a family member or friend, contact nanny and babysitting placement agencies in your area to inquire as to if they offer temporary and back-up childcare services. The International Nanny Association ( and the Association of Premier Nanny Placement Agencies ( maintain member lists that are searchable by state. You can also contact your state office that oversees the regulation, licensing and registration of employment agencies to determine what licensing or registration is required in your state and to ask for a list of currently licensed or registered nanny placement agencies.

Parents can also utilize online caregiver recruiting sites to find a back-up childcare provider on their own. Many reputable sites like  and  help parents and childcare providers connect. Parents can usually register for a free membership then upgrade to a paid membership if they find a caregiver they wish to connect with in their area. While most online sites give parents the opportunity to pay additional fees for a la carte services, like background and reference checking, at their core online sites are a do-it-yourself model. Parents must be willing  invest the time to weed through, interview and properly screen candidates before considering them for providing back-up childcare. It can be helpful to recruit back-up care providers in advance, so you have a prequalified list of back-up providers to call when you need one most.

To find center-based back-up childcare, you’ll need to contact area centers to determine if they offer back-up childcare services to members of the community. Some national childcare chains like Kindercare and Bright Horizons that service corporate clients also offer back-up childcare to members of the community in limited locations. Smaller childcare centers may also offer back-up care, but you’ll need to dig in and conduct some research to learn if any do in your area. Before selecting a back-up care center, you’ll want to be sure the center is properly licensed and accredited. Your state office that regulates daycare and childcare centers can provide a list of licensing requirements, as well as a list of currently licensed facilities. To find a listed of accredited daycare centers in your area, visit the website of the National Association for the Education of Young Children at .

To find out if your company offers back-up childcare benefits, contact your human resources department. Many large law firms, colleges, universities, hospitals and corporate headquarters offer back-up care options to their benefit-eligible employees. Some companies offer on-site back-up care while others contract with placement agencies to provide in-home providers to employees. Oftentimes a company that specializes in corporate benefits solutions will coordinate care between employees and childcare providers.

Cost of Back-Up Care

The cost of back-up childcare will vary depending on where you live and the type of back-up care you choose.

The most cost effective type of back-up childcare is having family or friends provide no cost childcare, but for many families, that’s simply not an option. With family living far away and friends having busy schedules of their own, most families have to look for other back-up childcare options.

The cost of using private in-home childcare will depend on where you live and how you find your provider. If you use a nanny placement agency to secure a back-up care provider, you’ll likely need to pay a one-time registration fee and a daily placement fee on top of the nanny’s hourly wage. Some agencies do not charge for registering and others charge $100 or more.  Depending on what part of the country you are in, the daily placement fee could be as little as $20 per day to as much as $40 per day on more. For hourly wages, you can expect to pay $12 to $16 or more per hour for a prescreened, qualified, and well-referenced provider.

For parents who wish to use a nanny or babysitting recruiting website to find a back-up childcare provider, you’ll incur the minimal costs of registration plus the hourly rate you agree to pay a caregiver. Since you are the employer, you set the hours, define the schedule and present your caregiving expectations. Most sites offer free searches so there is no need to register for a paid membership unless there is a caregiver in your area that you’re interested in contacting directly. Since online sites don’t typically prescreen candidates, you’ll need to pay additional fees to conduct a background check and any other pre-employment screenings you desire. Since online sites are a do-it-yourself model, it’s important to properly interview and screen any potential caregivers before hiring them to provide care for your child. You can view the annual International Nanny Association Salary and Benefits survey at to determine the going rate for in-home childcare providers in your area. Most sites also offer sample interview questions you can use to screen your desired provider.

Depending on where you live, the cost of back-up care in a center can vary too. Some centers may charge a flat daily fee and others may charge a fixed hourly rate. In addition to cost of daily care, a registration fee may also be required. Contacting several centers in your area will help you accurately gauge the going rate for center based back-up care. Before leaving your child in a new center, you’ll want to make a visit to be sure that you’re comfortable with the facility and staff and that the center holds proper licensing and accreditation.

For employees who have access to a back-up childcare benefit, back-up care is typically subsidized by the employer. Parents may be responsible for only a small fraction of the costs associated with center based care or may be given a certain number of calendar days of care free each year. For companies who outsource back-up care to agencies, the registration and daily fees may be waived or the rates may be significantly reduced.  Your company’s human resources department will be able to provide detailed information on any childcare benefits that are offered to employees.