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Back-up Care

Thanks to the efforts of the NIH Child Care Board and the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers, the NIH is now the first Executive Branch Federal agency to have a back-up care program in place to provide coverage to employees who find themselves scrambling for last minute caregiving solutions.  This three-year pilot program launched in January 2012, through a contract with Bright Horizons. All NIH trainees and employees can register for this service, which covers back-up care for healthy or mildly ill children, adult dependents, elderly parents, or the employees themselves. The NIH Office of Research Services covers administrative costs for this program and users pay an hourly rate for professional caregivers to either visit their homes or watch healthy children at a local center. Since Bright Horizons is a nationwide company, this program can also provide care for elderly parents who are not local and for children traveling with NIH trainees and employees on official business anywhere in the country. For more information about the NIH back-up care program and other related resources, please visit

Families might need back-up child care if their usual caregiver is ill or on vacation, if their usual day care center is closed for staff training, or if their child is mildly ill.  Back-up programs already exist in many university and corporate settings. Providing back-up care is good for business, because it facilitates recruitment and retention of family-conscious employees, and it increases productivity by minimizing the number of days that employees must stay home for family responsibilities.  Like the NIH pilot program, many back-up programs extend beyond child care, also offering services for elderly parents and dependents of any age.

Back-up care programs are becoming more common in academic settings. Columbia University, Princeton University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Virginia offer similar programs to the NIH pilot program, also through Bright Horizons. Policies specific to each institution dictate user fees, use limits, and eligibility for the program. Another popular provider, called Parents in a Pinch, is used by Vanderbilt University, Harvard University, and Johns Hopkins University. This provider offers home back-up care for both children and elders.  Other academic institutions, such as Yale University, use the provider Caregivers on Call. This organization offers emergency in-home childcare around the clock for healthy and mildly-ill children over six months of age.

Back-up care programs are also common in law firms and large corporations. While the details and scope of each program differ, they all share the goals of minimizing caregiver stress and maximizing the ability of employees to work productively.

This page last updated: August 9, 2018

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