Training manager Kathy Kelley's son Kyle has a five-year-old's propensity to fall sick at the worst times. "You have a meeting that day, you wake up to a sick kid, and the day-care center won't take him," she says. Kelley's employer, Scitor, helps her in two ways.

In the fall of 1990 the Sunnyvale, Calif., systems-engineering and program-management company began providing emergency child care through the independent provider Feeling Better, which has a center three minutes from Scitor. The company pays 100% of the expense -- in fiscal year 1992, that was a total of $2,408.

Scitor employees brought their sick children to the center 21 times that year. The company figures that its engineers average $817 worth of billable hours in a workday; so in 1992 the program helped Scitor save $17,000 that would have been lost if working parents had stayed home to mind sick children. (The company also spared employees the emotional toll of leaving children with baby-sitters unprepared to deal with illness.)

Since some working parents prefer not to leave sick children in a strange place with others who are ill, Scitor plans to go a step further by introducing an optional program of at-home emergency care provided by a visiting care giver.

The idea of a care giver alone with a child in the parent's home may raise parents' fears. When Scitor first decided, three years ago, to investigate such a program, it had two concerns: screening of care givers and appropriate training for them. Linda Munsell, Scitor's human-resources manager, set high standards for care givers' training, background checks, and references. But she didn't want to administer the program herself, so she tried to contract the program out to an independent provider.

On its own, Scitor didn't carry enough clout to demand from providers the special attention it wanted; of the company's 90 Bay Area employees, 25 to 30 have young children. So it collaborated with about 10 other local companies that wanted to provide a similar service. The companies met through One Small Step -- The Bay Area Employer Work & Family Coalition, a local nonprofit organization that addresses work and family issues. (See "Baby Steps," [Article link].)

The coalition has found a suitable provider, and its members hope to start a pilot program this summer. After six months Scitor will evaluate the program's quality and cost. "Even if the pilot fails," Munsell asserts, "one way or another, we will provide this benefit." Scitor intends to keep the young engineers that have helped it grow, and, Kathy Kelley says, "child care is one of the employees' biggest issues."

There are other ways to address the needs of working parents. Scitor subsidizes employees' day-care expenses. For other examples, see last month's feature "One Life to Live" ([Article link]), in the "Best Small Companies to Work For" report.

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Published on: Aug 1, 1993