Buyer’s guide to emergency childcare

Key facts

What is emergency childcare?

It helps staff access alternative childcare when their usual arrangements fail. It varies from a signposting service (via an EAP, for example), through to a part or fully paid-for number of sessions with a childminder, nanny, nursery, after-school or school holiday club or space in an employer-run nursery.

Where can employers get more information?

The Daycare Trust; National Day Nurseries Association; and Directgov.

Who are the main providers?

Bright Horizons and My Family Care (includes access to Busy Bees, Tinies, Asquiths and others). Many independent nurseries, such as Little Herons Emergency Childcare Centre, childminders and nanny agencies, offer emergency places. Some childcare voucher providers, such as Edenred and Grass Roots, provide emergency care signposting and/or booking services.

Emergency childcare can be vital for employers wanting to prevent sudden absences by key staff, and the benefit is highly valued by employees themselves, says Vicki Arnstein

Offering emergency childcare arrangements for when an employee’s usual carer is away or sick, or when a child has a mild illness, is increasingly popular. Rather than seeing it as an absence-management tool, research suggests employees’ really value the benefit. The lasting impact of employer-sponsored back-up childcare published by Bright Horizons last March, found 79% of staff thought emergency care was among the best benefits provided by their employer.

Emergency care offerings vary from a provider sourcing a childminder, nanny, nursery, afterschool or school holiday club with as little as 30 minutes’ notice, through to an employee assistance programme (EAP) or childcare voucher provider helpline that signposts potential options. Local nurseries, nanny agencies and childminders may also offer emergency care, with some, such as Little Herons Emergency Childcare Centre in Canary Wharf, specialising in it.

At Little Herons, an employer can buy one or more places (£20,000 for one full-time place, a reduction for more), and proprietor Kate Williamson says the centre is always full. “By offering this, you know key people will be in every day of the year,” she says.

When offering access to nursery places, employers typically make a specified number of sessions available per employee or per dependant each year. These are usually offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Whether or not an employer fully subsidises it will depend on budgets. Ben Black, managing director at My Family Care, says the company used to offer a signposting-only service, but has withdrawn this. “If the employer does not pay or make it cheaper, employees will not use it. If [their] nanny calls in sick or their child has conjunctivitis and cannot go to nursery, they cannot start going down the signpost route at 7am.”

Countrywide nanny agency

My Family Care has arrangements with a countrywide nanny agency, school holiday clubs, thousands of childminders and independent nurseries and chains, including Asquith and Busy Bees. Staff have access to a 24/7 booking line and website. Costs vary, but for a 1,000-employee business, a price of about £15,000 a year could be expected (based on staff offered six fully subsidised sessions each per year). Black says about 20% of staff register and use the sessions.

Another option is to pay a management fee and for the employer to subsidise the cost of care however it wants. This depends on the number of employees, but for 1,000, it would be about £2 per person per year.

With Bright Horizons, employers can take a membership to a particular Bright Horizons or Teddies nursery and offer staff a set number of sessions per year. Alternatively, they can offer a nationwide or regional scheme that can access nurseries, nannies, holiday schemes and care for mildly ill children through Bright Horizons’ nurseries and vetted partners. Denise Priest, head of marketing and strategic partnerships, says costs depend on requirements. Booking is through a 24/7 helpline or customised web page.

It is usually possible, depending on the provider, to use childcare vouchers for backup care. Staff will often have allocated their vouchers to their usual care, but may require this option if they are between providers or have unallocated money in their account.

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