Back-Up Care


The Back-Up Care Advantage Program®, provides care for anyone you have or feel a responsibility toward, including yourself, when normal arrangements are disrupted and/or when you need to provide short-term care — your child cannot attend school, school is closed, the babysitter cancels, your parent who lives in another state becomes ill or temporarily incapacitated, your home health aide cannot come in — but you still need to get to work, teach your courses, attend to your lab, or write a paper.

For situations like these and more, Columbia University has contracted with Bright Horizons Family Solutions to provide access to 100 hours of back-up care per year.

When you have planned or unplanned changes to your usual care arrangements Back-Up Care Advantage Program®, can provide you with a professional caregiver in your home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or at a qualified facility.

To register, visit the Bright Horizons website or call 877-BH-CARES (242-2737).

If you have not previously established a username and password, you will need the following information to access the website: Username: columbia; Password: backupcare (case sensitive, all lower case).

Please provide feedback about the Backup Care Program and Bright Horizons by calling (212) 854-8019 or by emailing the Office of Work/Life.

Am I Eligible?

You can take advantage of the Back-Up Care Advantage Program®, if you are a full-time Columbia:

  • Officer of Instruction
  • Officer of Research
  • Officer of the Library
  • Officer of Administration
  • Non-Union Support Staff
  • Post-Docs - including Post-Doc Research Fellows, Research Scholars, and Research Scientists, regardless of eligibility for other University benefits
  • Doctoral student, enrolled either full-time or part-time
  • Teaching Fellow not in a Ph.D. program

What Services Are Available?

Program elements include:

  • Center-based child care at a licensed facility near your home or campus; including access to eight Bright Horizons Back-up Care only centers in downtown and midtown Manhattan and in New Jersey.
  • In-home care for healthy or mildly ill children by qualified professionals.
  • In-home care for healthy, impaired, or mildly ill adults by qualified professionals.
  • Coverage is nationwide and in the following international locations: Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Netherlands.
  • Priority access (pending availability, first-come, first-served) for enrollment for regular, on-going care at the Bright Horizons Centers at Columbus Circle and West 89th Street, serving children from six weeks to six years old.

Whom Can I Cover?

Back-up care is for anyone who relies on you for care or for yourself. This includes infants through the elderly. The Back-Up Care Advantage Program®, covers care for healthy children in centers or at home, and care at home for people of all ages who need it. 

Adults for whom you provide care do not have to reside with you; they may live down the hall or across the country. You may even arrange care so that your child or adult can accompany you when you travel for professional purposes.

How Much Does it Cost?

There is no cost to register for the Back-Up Care Advantage Program®. Columbia University covers most of the costs for back-up care.

After care is received, you are billed for the copay as follows:

  • Center-Based Child Care: $2 copay per hour per child for child care facilities

  • In-Home Care for Children or Adults: $6 copay per hour for the first 50 hours used; $9 per hour for each hour in excess of 50 up to the 100 hour limit (for up to three dependents in the home). Note there is a 4 hour minimum for this option.

  • It is also worth noting that your backup care co-pays may be a qualified expense if you have a dependent care flexible spending account. 

What are the Program Limits?

You can receive 100 hours of care per fiscal year (July 1- June 30) through the Back-Up Care Advantage Program®

How Do I Register and Reserve Care?

While you may register at any time, Bright Horizons encourages you to register early, before you need to use back-up care.  Early enrollment will make using the program in an emergency much easier for you.

Even if you have not pre-registered, you can still call to arrange care, and register at the same time.

To register and schedule care, or for additional information, you can visit the Bright Horizons website or call 877-BH-CARES (242-2737).

If you have not previously established a username and password, you will need the following information to access the website: Username: columbia; Password: backupcare (case sensitive, all lower case).

Care can be scheduled from 30 days to 24 hours in advance.  While Bright Horizons will make every effort to accommodate care reservation requests, they cannot guarantee availability; particularly for requests made less than 24 hours in advance.

Examples of When You Might Use Back-Up Care

If the situation requires you to take time away from your work or miss a professional gathering, the Back-Up Care Advantage Program® can work for you.

Adult Care:

  • Your older parent, friend, or in-law lives alone. He or she has a change in health status - a stroke, a fall, a progressive illness - and will no longer be able to live independently. You are helping him/her find a permanent care solution, but it is taking longer than you expected. Back-up care can provide a health aide in his/her home so that you do not need to miss work while searching for permanent care alternatives.
  • You are the caregiver for a disabled adult at nights and on weekends, and you need to go to a conference out of town. Back-up care can provide an in-home caretaker to care for him or her while you are away.
  • An older parent, friend, relative, or in-law lives in another state and their usual care attendant is on vacation for a week. Back-up care can arrange for a substitute until the attendant returns from vacation.

Child Care:

  • You typically get the children up and to school in the morning but you have to go out of town for a conference and your partner or spouse must leave early for work.  Back-up care can arrange for someone to come to your home, wake the kids, and get them to school - every day until you return.
  • You have a child with special needs whose care is split between day care and home care. But the day care center is closed for the day, and the home care attendant cannot come in for the full day. Back-up care can send you a qualified home care attendant to fill in.
  • Your spouse or partner is in the hospital; and you need help taking care of the children. Back-up care can arrange for an in-home sitter or care at a child care center until he or she is able to help out again.

For information about the Back-Up Care Advantage Program® and to register for care, visit the Bright Horizons website.


Tips on How to Best Use The Back-up Care Program

Some things to consider when making a reservation:
  • Register in advance! Registration is free but required prior to using the program to schedule care. You can register online or by phone, 877-BH-CARES (242-2737).  Upon registering, you can search for care options both close to home and close to work.
  • Advance reservations are strongly encouraged whenever possible. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance of the day care is needed. 
  • Same-day requests for care may be difficult to fill. This is especially true during school holidays when centers fill up quickly.  Please refer to the High Demand Dates List to note the days that are particularly busy. You may make a reservation online, by phone or with the mobile app. The call center is available 24/7/365.
  • If you have made an advance reservation and then realize that your plans have changed, you can always cancel your reservation; just remember to do so by 5:00 pm on the business day prior to the day of scheduled care.
  • When placing a reservation you can prioritize your care options by letting us know what centers or providers you would like to use. It is best to provide several options for care in the event your first choice is not available.
  • When scheduling in-home care you can ask for an introductory phone call between you and your in-home care provider or have the care giver come early on the day you need care. This will give you an opportunity to become acquainted with the caregiver.
  • You are also encouraged to tour one of the centers used for drop-off care.

Back-up Care High Demand Dates

A Guide to Backup Care Program High Demand Dates*

Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Third Monday of January)

Presidents Day (Third Monday of February)
Mid-winter Recess for Public Schools (Week of Presidents Day)
Lunar New Year (Varies Year to Year)

Spring Break for Columbia University (Third Week of March)
Spring Break for NYC Independent Schools and some Private Schools (Last Two Weeks of March)
Good Friday (Varies Year to Year)

Spring Break for Public Schools (Varies Year to Year)
Good Friday (Varies Year to Year)


Summer Break Begins for NYC Independent and Public Schools (Dates Vary)

Summer Break for NYC Independent and Public Schools (All Month)

Summer Break for Independent and Public Schools (All Month)
Summer Break for Many Child Care Centers (Last Two Weeks of August)

Rosh Hashanah (Varies Year to Year)
Yom Kippur (Varies Year to Year)
Eid al-Adha (Varies Year to Year)

Rosh Hashanah (Varies Year to Year)
Yom Kippur (Varies Year to Year)
Columbus Day (Second Monday of October)

Election Day (Tuesday following the First Monday in November)
NJEA Conference for New Jersey Public Schools (First or Second Thursday & Friday in November) Veterans Day (November 11)

Winter Break for NYC Independent Schools (Typically Week before Christmas through New Year’s Day)
Winter Break for Public Schools (Week between Christmas and New Year’s Day)
New Year’s Eve (December 31)

* High Demand Day Calendar refers to those days throughout the year when local public or independent schools are closed and, therefore the backup care centers and providers experience higher than average usage. Bright Horizons does its best to accommodate each reservation.

User Feedback

Here's what faculty and staff who have used back-up care have to say:

  • "I just want to let you know these people are terrific! ... This is a wonderful, valuable benefit and I thank you for the information and for whatever you did to help set it up."
  • "This benefit has been enormously helpful--the sole bright spot in this affair!"
  • "The extensive flexibility of the back-up care program was one of the main reasons I chose to come onboard with CU. My children attend a group daycare center that has a very strict illness policy, they will not allow children who show any signs of illness upon arrival to attend that day.  Unfortunately, my children have allergies, and their allergy symptoms are similar to flu/cold symptoms, which meant that my husband and I both missed a number of days from work due to the children's allergies. Because I was using my vacation days to stay home with the kids, I wasn't able to accumulate enough days to go on an actual vacation, so the situation had a real impact on my professional life and my personal life.  While I certainly don't look forward to my children's next bad allergy day or illness, I do feel much more at ease knowing that we have a contingency plan available that includes home care for my kids."
  • "Yes, I am very happy with the back-up care program. I highly recommend it.  My story: My nanny of 2 years quit unexpectedly 3 weeks ago. I called Bright Horizons to arrange intermittent babysitting along with my husband and I taking some personal days. The first time I called was the day before I needed someone to take care of the kids.  I have two kids, 6 months and 3 years. Work Options found a babysitter who came to the house. She was great with the 2 kids, and my 3 year old really liked her.  I have been using the backup care as we look for a new nanny, and I have been using the same babysitter who came the first day. I was able to request a specific person and it has been a huge help, and a little peace of mind knowing that my kids have some consistency during this transition. Bright Horizons calls back quickly with confirmation of care and also sends an email to confirm."
  • "I heard my first experience of back-up care from a colleague. She used the backup care and it was great! She lives in Manhattan, has a 9 year old who had two days between school and her vacation activity. The woman who took care of her was lovely and she took the child to museums, parks, etc. Bright Horizons and the local agency were all very professional and it was just a totally positive experience for this employee who otherwise would have had to bring her daughter to work with her!"
  • "Wonderful! Thank you! Our students thank you!"
  • "I just wanted to personally say thank you for all those who were involved in making this possible. My son goes to private school and they get a lot more days off than public schools...and many times I had to use vacation days because I could not find babysitters. This is a great benefit for working families. Thank you! This is such a blessing."
  • "I am so glad to see Columbia joining many American employers who acknowledge families need back-up support to be productive, happy workers."
  • "I used this service over the summer when my full-time babysitter was stuck out of the country. My husband and I both work full time and while we have a usually very reliable babysitter for our 3 children, we don't really have any other fall back options when she is unavailable.  This program is incredibly helpful. The babysitter that we obtained was lovely and professional and knowing that I know have access to this definitely gives me some peace of mind. Thank you!"
  • "I used this program once. It was fantastic (professional, prompt, caring) and I immediately emailed many of my working-mom colleagues to share the information. It is very reassuring to know that this safety net exists. It is one of the best benefits that the University offers to working families. Thank you."
  • "I would just like to thank you and the University for this program. I do not have children so cannot give feedback on the program but I just wanted you to know that those of us without kids (yet) are excited to see the introduction of this program. Having worked at the University for six years, I do plan to start a family one day and can do so with peace of mind, knowing my employer is supportive. Thank in you advance!"
  • "Back-up care has been a godsend for our family. My mom has a malignant brain tumor. Our family has been taking turns caring for her at home. As she nears the end, she now requires 24 hr/day care. This benefit has enabled us to keep her at home at a reasonable cost - without disrupting our work lives. The service has been efficient, compassionate and of the highest quality. The home health aid caring for my mom through the night was more helpful in her first night than hospice, visiting nurse and the hospital social worker combined."
  • "I am so proud to work for an organization that provides this benefit. In my mind it is a win-win-win. Employees are able to continue working, affording them both salary and normalcy during difficult times. Employers retain staff and patients/children are kept safe."
  • "I am using the back-up care program to help out my mother, who is in Michigan. She is having knee surgery on Friday and her insurance company's home health service doesn't work weekends, so, Backup Care. My experience so far has been very positive. I am deeply impressed with the level of customer service I'm receiving. Thank you for this fantastic program. I would never be able to afford to help her without it."

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