Baby Boom: The Next Frontier of Child Care?

It's morning crunch time and Allie Hewlett, a benefits administrator, and her husband John, a school vice principal, are preparing to go to work.

During their busy morning routine, he juggles caring for 8-month-old Scout — named for the heroine in "To Kill Mockingbird" — as she checks e-mail before heading to the office. Oh, and, yes, there's also Banzo, the family dog.

Anyone who has to budget for child care knows it can cost tens of thousands of dollars each year. Unless, of course, you happen to be lucky enough to work for T3, a multi-million dollar advertising firm based in Austin, Texas, where parents can care for their children at work, for the first year.

And we're not talking separate child care on site. At T3, mothers or fathers can care for their children themselves in the office. It's a new frontier in the world of child care.

"The option for new moms is to put your baby into day care after 12 weeks," Allie Hewlett said. "And I mean, at 12 weeks they're so little, they're so small and after my maternity leave, I was definitely ready to get back to work, but I wasn't ready to let go of her."

Babies and the Bottom Line

The person responsibly for T3's policy is president and chief executive Gay Gaddis, who founded the company in 1989.

"If they need to be feeding the baby or not online for 30 minutes, that's OK," said Gaddis, whose company employs 250 people in Austin, New York and San Francisco. "As long as you're kind of keeping up, I don't care what the timeline is."

Gaddis knows the challenges working parents face, because she has been there herself.

"I, as a mom with three children, know the terrible pain of having to leave a child at a day care too young."

Gaddis may have been the first to offer a "babies-at-work" policy, but there are an estimated 70 companies across the country following suit.

Kristie Loescher, who teaches management at the University of Texas' McCombs School of Business, said the policy isn't just good for employees; it's also good for the bottom line.

"You get the benefits of retention, hopefully the benefit of less absenteeism, the person can come to work every day because they're bringing the baby and also there's an interesting fact that job satisfaction can increase because you're feeling a real loyalty to an employer who's letting you do this," she said.

Gaddis agreed. "I wouldn't have kept it going for 13 years if it wasn't so valuable to our bottom line," she said. "When a person is loyal and we're not having to recruit or retrain someone, this is worth thousands, tens of thousands of dollars per person."

The boss' lawyer was not thrilled with the potential liability issues, but a hefty insurance rider and parents' signing off for primary responsibility took care of the legal matters.

'An Incredible Experience'

"It's critical to look at the job and make sure that the baby will be safe," Loescher said. "If you work in a lab or you work in a hospital or someplace where it would be obvious there would be stuff in the air or obvious hazards to a baby, then you wouldn't want to consider it."

Gaddis said, "there have to be guidelines and rules. This isn't just a free-for-all, this is a work environment and we get a lot of work done here and we're very busy and very taxed with a lot of deadlines."

Deadlines and babies are everywhere at T3.

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