Originally created 08/18/99

Companies investing in child care



It was a nightmare, working-mom variety.

Tori Mannes had a new job as vice president, community and media relations, for Chase Bank of Texas in Dallas. She hired a full-time nanny to care for her three children, who range in age from 4 to 9.

Three weeks into the job, the nanny abruptly quit. "She called and left a voice mail message on Sunday night. I was really left in the lurch," Ms. Mannes said.

Luckily, her employer was understanding. So were family and friends, who pitched in until she and her husband could make new arrangements. Still, "you hate to keep asking," she said.

Starting next year, Chase Texas employees will no longer have to scramble when they face such emergencies. The bank will open three backup child-care centers for its Texas employees in the summer of 2000, one in Arlington and two in Houston. Employees can get up to 20 days a year of free child care for times when the sitter suddenly quits or the school has an "in-service" day.

The new centers also will serve mildly ill children and offer school holiday programs. Under another free program, parents of newborn and newly adopted children can get up to eight consecutive weeks of free care. A statewide coordinator will help locate backup care in smaller cities. The care will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.

"It's like insurance," Ms. Mannes said of backup child care. "You're always glad you have it because when you need it, you really need it."

The idea for the new centers came from an employee survey, said Cynthia Peoples, vice president and employee-relations manager for the bank in Dallas-Fort Worth. "It came out loud and clear that employees had a need for backup care."

Parent company Chase Manhattan Corp. has two backup care centers on the East Coast, including one opened in 1992 in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., that expanded from 75 slots to 115 because of employee demand. Now the company is taking the program nationwide. It will have 11 such centers by the end of next year.

Chase is on the cutting edge of a national trend, say experts in the field.

Four percent of employers offer backup care for employees whose regular arrangements fall through, according to a 1998 survey of large and small employers by the Families and Work Institute, a research organization. But an additional 5 percent were considering adding the care. The percentage is higher among large firms.

Leaner work forces and a tight labor market are pushing the trend, said Ellen Galinsky, the institute's president. "We asked companies the major reason why they provide these kinds of supports. It was retention, retention, retention."