Backup Care: 6 Options for When Your Plans Fall Through
Take the anxiety out of planning and avoid last-minute scrambling with these solutions for backup child care.
Reliable child care is important to every parent. It puts your mind at ease and enables you to focus at work, knowing your children are being cared for in a safe space. When plans change, it’s just as important to know your options for backup care.
Sometimes, you’re lucky and your nanny will notify you of an upcoming vacation weeks in advance. Other times, your sitter may suddenly fall ill, forcing you to act quickly. You’ll know far in advance when your child’s school will go on break, giving you enough time to plan for backup care. But adults often don’t get the same snow days as their kids do, for example. And if you have an upcoming project due at work, you may need some last-minute help to allow you to stay on task and get things done.
Life happens, and the best you can do is to be prepared. These six options will be a great starting point for you to ensure your kids have the best backup care available when you need it the most.
Last-Minute Backup Child Care Options
1. Family & Friends
Sometimes life takes us far away from home to places where family can’t easily help with your kids. In these cases, it’s great to have good friends and neighbors. These are the people -- family, friends, neighbors -- who can be there when you’re in a tight spot.
Talk to them ahead of time, right now before an emergency happens, and find out what they’re comfortable with. Would they be available last-minute? Do you need to give them advance notice? Also, determine pay or exchange. A lot of family members or close friends wouldn’t accept monetary payments for watching children they love. You can always offer an exchange, like watching their kids next or or running their errands while you’re out. Don’t ever forget the obvious when you’re met with a last-minute challenge. These people will always be there for you.
2. Your Employer
Your company may provide backup child care as a work benefit. Work-sponsored backup care programs such as Care@Work often offer in-center care, as well as an in-home option. Because these programs are often subsidized by an employer, they can be more affordable than other types of backup care. Talk to your Human Resources department about enrollment to take advantage of an employer-sponsored backup care program.
Employers may also opt for online services like to provide child care, including backup and emergency care. These options can provide coverage for kids, as well as seniors and pets. They provide 24-hour service, so if you find out at 11 p.m. that your babysitter won’t be coming the next morning, a service like this would be available to you. If your company doesn't offer this benefit, ask HR to consider it.
3. A Drop-In Day Care Center
Drop-in day care centers are becoming increasingly popular, not just for emergency care but also for parents who have nontraditional work schedules and need flexible care options to match. They’re similar to traditional day cares but often have extended hours -- many until 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. While most have a daily drop-in rate, others offer prepaid punch cards and monthly passes, often with a discounted rate for siblings. Most drop-in day care centers take children 2 years and older, although some centers also care for babies as young as 6 weeks.
Because these facilities have staff-to-child ratios to maintain and can fill up fast, you’ll typically have a better chance of securing a spot if you call ahead for a reservation as soon as you know you’ll need care. Most will ask you to come by in advance of your first care day to fill out paperwork and briefly introduce your child to the center.
Planned Ahead Backup Care Options
1. A Co-Op
Many cities and neighborhoods have babysitting co-ops that allow you to trade babysitting hours -- even last-minute care requests -- with other parents. No money is exchanged, and credit in the co-op is earned by babysitting for others. So if you’re looking for help with backup care, it’s best to bank several hours’ or days’ worth of credit in advance.
To find a babysitting co-op, do a Google search for “babysitting co-op + (your city/neighborhood).” If you don’t find anything, consider starting your own. Chances are, there are plenty of parents in your area who would love to trade care. Good places to find them include online neighborhood groups like Nextdoor, local Facebook parent groups, or community boards at your local library, church, community center, or YMCA.
2. A Network of Sitters
One of the best ways to guarantee backup care when you need it is to build a strong network of babysitters and not to just rely on one single caregiver. It’s easy to build a network -- where you can find a variety of caregivers that match your preferences and are available when you’re most likely to need backup care -- just by word of mouth. Talk to your mom friends on social media, find Facebook groups, talk to other moms when out at the park or on play dates, or find babysitters near you on Care.com.
Once you’ve vetted and settled on your top choices, you can work them into your child care rotation, even if it’s just a date night here or there. When you need backup, you’ll have several sitters to call who already know your kids and will provide excellent care.
3. Safe Spaces in Your Community
This takes time to plan ahead because you’ll need to put some energy into researching the best places around your community. Once you know the safest spaces to let your kids explore while you get in some work, it’ll be easy to find places to entertain them at a moment’s notice. This is also assuming your employer will allow you to work remotely, of course.
Sometimes even an hour or two of uninterrupted work is better than nothing. If your gym or shopping center offers drop-in child care, take advantage of it. Rather than working out or grocery shopping, you can spend the time making calls or working on your laptop from the lobby. The same goes with drop-in community play centers that have open hours for free play, libraries with storytime, or fast food restaurants and malls with play centers. The kids will be more likely to amuse themselves if they have fun new toys and kids to play with -- and you can get some much-needed work done.
No matter what you decide, it's always best to have a plan in place before an emergency arises. Call ahead to various centers and individuals and create a list of potential caregivers you can trust. Creating the best backup plan -- or plans -- will put your mind at ease and give your family the care it deserves.
Originally written by Jennifer Eberhart. Updated by Cass Overby and Lauren Garcia on March 2, 2018.