Backup Childcare as an Option for Employer Investment in Early Education


There are many solutions to this workforce challenge that are within reach for businesses of all sizes.
Get started with an employee survey and let your workforce help you narrow down the multiple options that you have.

Although many businesses recognize the economic and human development impacts of investment in early childhood education, there are many that don’t. And those that have chosen to take action can find it difficult to navigate their options and choose a path forward with confidence. 

According to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) 2016 National Study of Employers, only seven percent of employers provide childcare either onsite or in close proximity to employees, only two percent help employees pay for childcare through vouchers or other subsidies and only five percent offer backup childcare. 

The concept of backup childcare received attention last fall when Starbucks announced that they were going to offer backup childcare to all of their employees for $1 an hour in-home care and $5 per day center-based care. Starbucks recognized that when regular childcare options unexpectedly fell through for employees, they were often unable to find an alternative care option in time for their shift. Stable, affordable, and high-quality childcare is difficult to find, and nearly impossible to find at the last minute. 

The challenges faced by Starbucks employees are not uncommon. In fact, businesses lose $3 billion annually due to employee absenteeism as a result of childcare breakdowns. 

There are many solutions to this workforce challenge that are within reach for businesses of all sizes. Backup childcare is just one option, and we would like to highlight a few businesses who believe it's the right investment to make.

Spotlight on Best Buy

Best Buy studied childcare options for almost two years before implementing a program. They did their homework, listening to employees and conducting focus groups, specifically with field employees. 

Best Buy’s Melanie Moriarty, senior director in HR Rewards, said that after surveying employees, backup childcare was a priority. Moriarty shared a story with us about a field employee, a mother of a young child, who was not able to find anyone to watch her son when she was scheduled to work and made the difficult decision to bring him with her to the workplace. Moriarty explained that while Best Buy had already begun looking into backup care solutions, hearing this story accelerated their process.  

The Best Buy program:

  • All full-time and part-time employees receive up to 10 days of backup childcare a year through a licensed provider for both in-home and center-based care, including weekends and evenings.
  • Employees only pay a $10 co-pay per day (up to 10 hours).
  • Since October 2018, almost 1,400 employees have enrolled in the program and already about 150 employees have used at least one day of backup care. 

Best Buy is hopeful for increased use as word spreads about employee experiences.

One employee shared that the program provides, “Fantastic peace of mind that I have help in an emergency.” Another explained, “I worked worry free and got real work done,” and someone else told HR, “I am so grateful my company offers me this benefit.”

Spotlight on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

I recently began working at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to lead the Foundation’s work on early childhood education and in my first week I learned of the benefits I now had access to. It is comforting to work for an organization that practices what they preach.

In the U.S. Chamber of Commerce program:

  • All employees have access to 20 days per year per dependent of backup childcare.
  • Center-based care is $25 per day and in-home care is $8 per hour. 
  • New parents receive an additional five days of backup childcare following the birth of their child to ease the transition to work.
  • In 2018, the U.S. Chamber had 29 employee use the benefit and 288 confirmed care sessions.

Caroline Swann, vice president of Talent Solutions, explained that the U.S. Chamber offers this benefit because they look at employees holistically. 

“It’s not about having the employee in the office,” she said. “Investing in a program like this is about recognizing the enormity of starting a family. We support and recognize the dual role of our working parent employees.” 

One employee I spoke with, a mother of two, praised this benefit as a significant help to her family both financially and emotionally. She has used the benefit for years and sees it as an affordable alternative during the summer, over holidays, and when changes in her regular care occur. 

Key Takeaway

There is no perfect-fit solution for how a business should invest in early childhood education. There are multiple options. But before jumping in, let your workforce help you narrow down the choices. Conduct an employee survey to figure out how to best meet employee needs. Look beyond the corporate office when assessing the needs of your workforce. 

And if you need the talking points, the U.S. Chamber Foundation has presented the business case for investing in early childhood education and created a toolkit to help businesses find solutions that are the right fit for them, with examples of employers who have chosen different paths beyond backup care.