Princeton University

Princeton Weekly Bulletin   November 13, 2006, Vol. 96, No. 9   prev   next   current

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  • Editor: Ruth Stevens

    Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller

    Staff writers: Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, Eric Quiñones

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Program provides backup for caregiving needs

Princeton NJ — Jamie Sherman is a graduate student in anthropology trying to make it through a hectic whirlwind of teaching classes, working on her dissertation research proposal and writing conference papers. When her 6-year-old daughter, Ori, broke her leg last February, her carefully calibrated schedule was thrown out the window.

“Ori was at home for three weeks,” Sherman said. Her husband, a teacher, could only take a couple of days off from his job, so Sherman was left to juggle her research and teaching responsibilities with caring for their daughter.

“I was able to do the bare minimum of making it to classes, but I really couldn’t work,” she said. “I was getting nothing done, and I was so swamped.”

In its first six months, the program provided services to 117 faculty, staff and graduate students, according to Mary Piteo, work/life coordinator in the Office of Human Resources.

When Carol Zanca, the department manager in anthropology, told Sherman about a program the University launched last March called Backup Care Options, she called immediately. The program sent a babysitter to her home to care for Ori, and Sherman got back to her research. “The caregiver was perfectly lovely,” she said. “Ori is very picky, and she liked her.”

Sherman has since used the program four more times when Ori and her younger sister, Edie, were sick. “It made it possible for me to get through the year and get my work done,” she said. “It was really important for me.”

Backup Care Options provides care for children, adults and the elderly when established care arrangements fall through, preventing the employee from meeting work or study obligations. Staff, faculty and graduate students can use the service when a child is sick, school is closed or the regular caregiver is on vacation. Backup Care also provides help with adult family members who are ill or recovering from medical treatment.

The program offers employees considerable flexibility. Backup Care will provide caregivers in any state and in Canada, so if a family member is ill in Minnesota, an employee can have a caregiver visit him or her there. If an employee needs to travel with children for work, a caregiver can look after children at a hotel. Caregivers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In its first six months, the program provided services to 117 faculty, staff and graduate students, according to Mary Piteo, work/life coordinator in the Office of Human Resources.

Care for children and adults, which is subsidized by the University, costs $4 an hour. The program also can place a child in a licensed day care facility at a cost of $2 an hour. Each employee has 100 hours of care available each year. Caregivers come from licensed home health care and nanny agencies, which perform extensive criminal and background checks and drug testing.

“It’s amazingly inexpensive,” said Jamie Zaninovich, senior associate director of athletics, who used Backup Care several times for his 6-month-old son, Max, this summer. “And our caregiver called before she came and talked to my wife on the phone for about an hour to get a sense of Max’s routine.”

Toni Turano, associate dean of the faculty, turned to Backup Care when her 83-year-old mother broke her hip. Her father needed care while her mother was recovering in the hospital and later in a rehabilitation facility.

“He needs support at home,” said Turano of her father, who is 89. “I brought him to my house, and I needed help taking care of him while continuing to work.”

Calling Backup Care saved Turano the legwork of searching for a caregiver.

“They really took a lot of the responsibility of finding an agency and a caregiver off my shoulders,” she said. “When you’re dealing with your mom in surgery and you have doctors to talk to, siblings to notify and decisions about medical care to make, finding the time to identify a reputable agency and an appropriate caregiver is an enormous burden. I just called Backup Care and said, ‘I need this person at this time,’ and they had somebody there.”

Turano asked for the same caregiver for the weeks her father lived with her, and the program was able to satisfy that request.

“The program was a real help in this situation,” Turano said. “It changed the dynamic in a crisis. Typically the employee is torn between responsibilities at work and at home. Because of this program, Princeton became my ally in juggling work and family. They were helping me to do my job and to take care of my loved one too.”

An added benefit

The implementation of a backup care program was one of the recommendations of the recent Task Force on Health and Well-Being. It was brought to fruition by the Child Care Working Group, which was charged with expanding and improving child care at the University. When the group learned about Work Options Group, a Colorado-based provider of backup care benefits to employees throughout the United States and Canada, the fact that the company also offered elder care was an added benefit, said Joan Girgus, a special assistant to the dean of the faculty who chaired the group. She was surprised to learn that so far close to 25 percent of the program’s use by Princeton employees has been for elder care.

“We had a hole in our fabric that we didn’t know was there,” Girgus said.

She cautions that occasionally care cannot be made available on short notice, but often the program can find a caregiver in a few hours. Eve Aschheim, director of the Program in Visual Arts, called at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday in early October when her daughter wasn’t feeling well. “By 11:30 a.m. a wonderful babysitter came to our house,” she recounted in an e-mail.

Aschheim had to get to campus that day for several appointments with students and a meeting of the heads of departments and programs in the afternoon.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how simple and effective the program is,” she said. “It is a working parent’s dream, truly brilliant. That the Tilghman administration had the insight to engage such a program is revolutionary. It makes a great difference in how faculty (often women) with young children can participate in the life of the University and meet their obligations.”

Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel used the service when her 88-year-old mother, who was visiting for several months, fell and ended up in the emergency room. During her mother’s recovery, Malkiel used Backup Care for the better part of two weeks, and was especially grateful to have a caregiver in place when she had to travel out of town for the University.

“We had such a competent and caring individual who came to help,” Malkiel said. “The first thing she said to my mother was, ‘I am here to help you in any way I can.’”

Jennifer Bolton, an assistant in the Office of the Vice President and Secretary, realized in early April that her daughter’s day care was closed on Good Friday, but neither she nor her husband had the day off from work. She arranged for a caregiver to come from Backup Care, but she felt a little nervous because her daughter had never had a babysitter who wasn’t a relative. Bolton worked from home in the morning to keep an eye on Genevieve, who was 3 at the time. At lunchtime she got ready to leave for work, and went to say goodbye to her daughter and her caregiver.

“They were playing dolls, and Genevieve didn’t even look up,” Bolton said. Her daughter still talks about the caregiver who watched her that day, said Bolton. “Genevieve wants to know when she’s coming back.”

For more information about the Backup Care program, visit


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