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New benefit offers access to childcare, eldercare and other services

Jill Fuss, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, was working on a grant proposal due the next day when her daughter got sick at day care. Despite the urgent deadline, she had to leave work and go home, coordinating the final details of the grant application by telephone.

“It was really stressful and I felt I was letting my team down,” Fuss said.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, Fuss and other employees throughout the UC system will be able to find emergency backup care and other services using Sittercity, a new benefit available to all faculty and staff covered by UC benefits except where collective bargaining is required.

Sittercity has an online database of nearly 2 million pre-screened caregivers. Under the new benefit, employees will have free access to those referrals, thanks to the work of Fuss and other members of the Systemwide Advisory Committee on the Status of Women (SACSW).

The referral service includes more than just backup care. UC faculty and staff can use it to find in-home nannies, childcare providers, eldercare providers, transportation, dog walkers, pet sitters, tutors, housekeepers and more.

UC will pay the fee that provides access to the referral list; faculty and staff then register with the site to gain access to the referral list, which includes caregivers’ and service providers’ qualifications, reviews and background checks.

Faculty and staff interview whomever they find appropriate, and then make their own arrangements for hiring and payment. Sittercity members can also post a job and have caregivers respond to the listing.

The new family benefit has been in the works since 2010, when SACSW sent a report to President Mark G. Yudof recommending that UC include some kind of emergency backup care in its benefits package. Not only would the expanded benefit help employees, SACSW said, but it would also be a cost-effective way to boost productivity.

Yudof endorsed the proposal and tasked Dwaine Duckett, vice president of human resources, to work with SACSW to implement the benefit.

“Backup care makes it possible for employees to go to work rather than having to stay home when they have care issues,” said SACSW chair Mary Croughan, who helped select Sittercity. “It also enables faculty and staff to travel on work-related conferences and meetings and have childcare at the conference location,” she said.

And because Sittercity is a nationwide resource, faculty and staff will be able to use it to find help for a parent who lives far away. If your mom breaks her leg, for example, you can hire someone to bring her meals until you can get there to care for her, Croughan said.

A 17-member advisory panel, including members of SACSW and campus representatives with a range of applicable expertise, worked with systemwide HR to identify potential vendors, write the request for proposal and grade the proposals, Duckett said.

“More than 60 percent of our staff is female, and a lot of caregiver responsibilities tend to fall on them. So this new benefit is very good for our female population and relieves some of the pressure on them,” Duckett said. “It’s a big deal.”

Duckett also commended SACSW for finding a way to make backup care something UC could afford to offer. He noted that on a per-employee basis, the cost is less than the $140 membership fee employees would pay on their own.

Duckett said he hopes to expand the program to UC’s represented employees, but that it needs to be negotiated with the individual unions first. Represented employees should check with their union to see if they are eligible for the benefit.

“I’d never heard of backup care before this project, but as a new mother I thought it would change my life in a great way,” Fuss said. “Backup care could help everyone, not just people with children.”

“It’s fantastic just for the peace of mind. I’ve recently had a second child, and I’ve completely spent my leave time. So it’s great to know I have backup care if I need it.”

The Sittercity benefit complements and does not replace similar benefits available to some employees at some UC locations.

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