What is the trade-off between primary childcare and backup care?

Pedro Silva
  • Roughly 4% of employers offer either backup care or primary childcare, which is day-to-day care during business hours.
  • Backup care is vital in childcare emergencies, but working parents usually need more help in their day-to-day childcare setup.
  • Primary childcare addresses the problem at the root and can have a considerable impact in reducing backup care needs.

If your company is considering offering primary childcare or backup care, it's important to understand the differences and how each benefit will help your employees.

Roughly 4% of employers offer a subsidized childcare program, according to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2019 employee benefits survey. That percentage was held steady since 2015. 

The changing workforce dynamics caused by economic uncertainty and the coronavirus pandemic have prompted many employers to rethink their benefits. Here's what HR leaders need to know to build an effective benefit program that strikes a balance between primary childcare and backup care:

What is primary childcare?

Primary childcare is day-to-day childcare during working hours, whether it's on-site or not, provided or sponsored by an employer or not. This type of childcare can boost productivity, lower turnover and help retain a diverse and inclusive workforce. More importantly, making childcare affordable is the right thing for employers to do if they truly want to support working parents.

Access to everyday childcare also provides parents peace of mind to work full time, maximize their income, and gives them confidence that they are doing the best they can for children's development. Investment in early childhood education generates the highest ROI based on economic and social measures.

Helping parents find the right childcare setup is a huge workforce problem. Lack of reliable childcare costs businesses $57 billion each year. Lack of good primary childcare options keeps parents from coming back to the office after the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is backup care?

Backup care is a type of secondary childcare. Many employers offer backup care to address the lack of childcare options in an emergency. 

Backup care can seem very generous to parents, but does not address the core challenge most families face: a reliable, high-quality and affordable setup for primary childcare. For employers, backup care can appear like a more affordable option because it typically only offers 10 to 20 days of coverage. Still, the per diem rate of backup care is much more expensive than primary childcare rates.

As a stopgap measure that prevents childcare emergencies, backup care is effective. However, it is not a comprehensive solution to the childcare affordability crisis. Better setups for day-to-day needs would reduce demand for more costly backup care. 

Primary childcare serves a greater need

Many families have unreliable primary childcare setups because of the high cost of care. Childcare is more expensive than public college in more than 30 states. Employers who support helping parents find the right day-to-day setup can enhance productivity more than solely offering emergency help. 

Primary childcare and backup care are essential parts of any benefit program. Backup care helps during emergencies, but primary childcare is what most working parents really need. Employers who focus on primary childcare are likely to reduce turnover of working parents more than those that only offer backup care.

Childcare, whether it is primary or backup, will keep growing in concern for working families – especially as the cost of childcare continues to rise across the U.S. Arvorie's platform can help employers tailor their benefit program based on every working parent's individual needs.


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