Emergency childcare is worth the investment

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• Emergency childcare gives employees access to nannies, childminders, nurseries and school holiday clubs when their regular childcare arrangements break down.

• Employers should determine which type of back-up care is best suited to their employee population.

• The service is effective in protecting productivity, attracting and retaining talent, and improving the wellbeing and engagement of working parents.

• Offering emergency care in tandem with flexible working arrangements can be very effective.

Case study: Nomura invests in back-up childcare service

When investment bank Nomura International rolled out a back-up care service in January 2011, it was the result of two years’ focus on the firm’s diversity and inclusion benefits for its 3,500 London-based staff.

At the end of 2010, a proposal was sent to the diversity and inclusion steering group around the cost options and impact on staff of running a cr¿che on site, and the same was included for back-up care.

Charlotte Sweeney, international head of diversity and inclusion at Nomura International, says: “We sent a few questions out to staff from our different employee networks as part of the weekly communication we send out to get their views, and it was decided that back-up care was the preferred option.”

The reason for this was that employees could choose what kind of back-up care suited them a nursery near home, near work or a nanny.

The service was also more inclusive than just childcare, including eldercare and convalescence support.

The firm is using its provider, Bright Horizons, to sort through permanent care choices for staff and recommend options. Sweeney adds: “That saves staff a lot of time. It makes life easy for them to have someone very experienced in the field to look at all the options.”

Nomura International intends to communicate the service to employees regularly, targeting them four or five times a year at key times such as half-term holidays and Christmas.Nomura invests in back-up service

Case study: Barclays Wealth banks on working parents

Barclays Wealth introduced an emergency childcare and carer service in June 2011, to add to a suite of benefits supporting its working parent population.

Since its launch, the scheme has been taken up by 7% (260) of staff across the UK. Sarah Boddey, head of diversity and inclusion at Barclays Wealth, says: “There is normally a peak when the service is first launched, but it was also popular because it was introduced in June, and a lot of employees used the summer holiday care.”

The perk is part of a suite of measures for working parents that the bank has introduced since November 2010. It has also relaunched its flexible working policy, has enhanced maternity pay from 12 to 26 weeks on full pay, and introduced access to 10 transitional days of paid leave to deal with unforeseen circumstances. Boddey adds: “It really recognises those first two years of a child’s life, which can be very difficult.”

The emergency childcare and carer service, provided by My Family Care, adds to these benefits. Employees were previously responsible for co-ordinating their own back-up care, but now have access to a network of prevetted, pre-registered nannies, childminders and school clubs.

The service was communicated via the intranet, emails, the bank’s family and parenting network, lunch-time face-toface sessions in London with representatives from My Family Care, and via teleconferencing for staff in other UK locations.

Working parents are a significant part of the employee population, so employers would be wise to set up an emergency childcare service, says Jennifer Paterson

Back-up childcare can be needed at a moment’s notice, so employers that offer various options for working parents and cater to a range of situations will see wider engagement with the benefit.

Back-up, or emergency, childcare is a service that helps employees with alternative childcare if their usual arrangements fall through. It offers access to nannies, childminders, nurseries and after-school holiday clubs, all with as little as 30 minutes’ notice.

Denise Priest, director of marketing and strategic partnerships at Bright Horizons, says any kind of back-up care service has three key components. “The service must be appropriate and meaningful to the needs of the organisation and its employees; the care provided must be of the highest quality; and the facility for employees to book and access care must be user-friendly and convenient for busy working parents.”

The service can be used in a variety of situations: when the usual carer is ill, when the child is ill, or when the working parent has to alter his or her standard working patterns. Liz Morris, joint director of consultancy and training at Working Families, says: “The most common option is to provide a nanny who will come and be with the child, when the child is sick, for example, allowing the parent to go to work. Another reason to put in back-up childcare would be training days or non-working days, or if an employee is required to work outside their normal shift patterns. With a healthy child, it can be a reserved place in either a workplace nursery or another nursery, or it could be brought-in childcare.”

Nurseries are reliable

Claire Schofield, director of membership, policy and communications at the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), says: “Nurseries are usually open 52 weeks a year. One of the advantages of using a nursery is that they are reliable. But a nursery might be closed because of an emergency of its own. In the cold weather last winter, we had some nurseries that could not get enough staff in to cover their legal staffing ratios, so they could not cover all the children.”

Employers should determine which type of back-up care is best suited to their workforce. For instance, an organisation with a large working parent population all concentrated on a single site would find emergency placements in local nurseries well suited to its employee base.

More often, an organisation’s working parent population will have a range of requirements. Priest adds: “An effective and meaningful back-up service is one that supports the care needs of the full diversity of an employee population. This means care for children, including mildly ill children and those of school age, as well as babies and nursery-age children. It also means taking into account the increasing numbers of people taking on some kind of responsibility for adult loved ones within their families. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The more carefully a back-up service is designed, the more effective it will be.”

The service can be provided as a standalone benefit for working parents or one that can be accessed through an employee assistance programme (EAP) or childcare voucher provider. It can be employer-paid, employee-paid or a shared arrangement.

Although many employers offer such a service to staff, take-up is generally low. Iain McMath, chief executive officer at Sodexo Motivation Solutions, says: “It is great to offer emergency childcare, but the reality is that parents do not use it. The take-up is much lower than expected. Parents would rather leave their child at a neighbour’s for a few hours than leave their child in a strange environment. A large nursery with extra space is fine; if an employer has an internal nursery, that is fine; but where there is a default list of nurseries to put a child in if needed, the take-up is really low, around 5%.”

Informal childcare

Even if an employer provides an approved, registered care option, many working parents prefer to use informal childcare as their back-up plan of choice. McMath says: “Most parents spend a lot of time initially choosing the care their child is going to have. After deliberating and then finding someone, to have a situation where they need to find someone else can be quite disturbing.”

Priest adds: “Care, by its very nature, is a personal matter, and back-up care brings with it the additional stresses accompanying last-minute changes of arrangements and the emergency context. It is vital, therefore, that users of the service can have complete trust in the care offered.”

On the flipside, many providers of back-up care are seeing increasing demand for the service as an effective way to protect productivity, attract and retain talent, and improve the wellbeing and engagement of working parents. Working Families’ Morris says: “Back-up childcare is becoming increasingly common, certainly in large City organisations, financial institutions and law firms.”

Back-up care is, arguably, most effective when offered in tandem with flexible working options. Ben Black, managing director of My Family Care, says: “It used to be very much that parents worked full time or stayed at home full time. The large networks of friends who were not working and family who lived around used to be far more effective.

Flexible working

“The downside of flexible working is we are all rushing around doing our own things, and life is a bit more complicated as a result. From that point of view, there is more need for it. We find that hundreds of employees who book back-up care do not actually have to go to a meeting, they have got to get something done and need someone to look after the kids.”

The NDNA’s Schofield adds: “Over the last decade, employees’ rights have increased in terms of flexible working. The sector has responded by offering more flexible patterns of choosing childcare.”

It is now very much the norm for young children and babies to be in nurseries on a part-time basis, whereas 10 years ago they were more likely to have been there full time. This shift reflects a change in working patterns, says Schofield. “Working parents should have the choice of using the type of childcare that meets their needs and be able to find a work-life balance that is right for them and their child.”

Emergency eldercare

  • The number of UK workers with eldercare responsibilities is expected to rise from 6.4 million in 2011 to nine million by 2037, according to figures from Employers for Carers.
  • With children, care follows the life pattern of toddler to preschool to primary age, but with eldercare, there can be a sudden requirement for it. With an ageing workforce and ageing population, employees are increasingly likely to have eldercare responsibilities.
  • Back-up eldercare is becoming more common. It tends to involve taking elderly or disabled dependants to medical appointments, or emergency cover when the usual carer is not available. Take-up is lower than for emergency childcare but is catching up quickly.
  • Sodexo Motivation Solutions lobbied the Labour government in 2007-08 and is now lobbying the current government and political parties about tax-efficiencies for eldercare.
  • Sodexo suggests making childcare vouchers generic carer vouchers. An employee might use these for their children and then for their parents.

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