LIKE A NERVOUS PARENT, when Cheryl Frazier handed over the childcare responsibilities for the event she had planned to a new provider, she was engaging in a supreme act of faith.

She had checked backgrounds and verified references, but she wasn't about to relax until she saw how the company actually dealt with her attendees' children. “After that first night, after I saw what a good job they were doing, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders,” she says.

Frazier, marketing coordinator for Sysco Food Services of San Francisco, is just one of many planners who outsource childcare services for their meetings and incentives. Her company employs about 200 salespeople and puts on a lot of one-night sales events, award banquets, and special activities such as casino nights that take place at area hotels, including the Doubletree in Monterey and the Argent in San Francisco. Frazier heard about Corporate Kids Events Inc., a company in nearby Carmel that has a national clientele, while putting on an event at the Doubletree. After checking references, she hired Corporate Kids, and “since then, everyone has been madly in love with them.”

While the hospitality industry in general has been hit hard by the economic slowdown, Corporate Kids Events has seen business trend upward, says Garen Gouveia, who with his wife, Susan, founded the company five years ago. After years of providing daycare, the couple got into corporate children's services by happenstance and, says Gouveia, “realized there was a need.”

The company has 60 employees and has provided services to the corporate market in places as far away as Hawaii, Ireland, and the Bahamas. It handles groups as small as 10 (for fewer than that, he recommends individual baby-sitting services) and as large as 500 children. Programs are customized according to client needs and split into age-specific groups.

Gouveia says costs vary depending upon the size of an event, its location, and whether it includes off-site excursions and field trips, as well as the age span of the children involved. For example, he uses a higher staff-to-child ratio for younger children, which makes that kind of care more expensive.

Diane Lyons, president of Accent on Children's Arrangements Inc., a corporate childcare services company based in New Orleans, says it is important to be aware of how guidelines vary from state to state. Lyons says that she always provides a lower ratio than that required by the National Association for the Education of Young Children or by the applicable state agency. “If they recommend a 1:3 ratio for infants, we provide a 1:2,” she says.

Like adult events, costs vary depending on the details. Lyons has set up children's sailing programs with instructors as well fly-fishing events at an Orvis school in Michigan. “They are very cool,” she says, “but they obviously will have costs, like an adult program.”

Security Matters

Cheryl Collins, travel and events manager for TBS Couriers, a delivery service headquartered in Oakland, Calif., plans a biannual family retreat, the most recent of which was held in March at the Granlibaken Conference Center and Resort at Lake Tahoe for more than 500 attendees, among them 120 children.

Collins originally contracted with local churches for child care, and for the first several retreats used sitter services. But as the retreat grew, she decided that she wanted a service that would provide something extra, and through a referral found Corporate Kids Events. “We wanted someone who would take good care of the kids and keep them active,” she says. “And we wanted the parents to be comfortable with the people they were leaving their children with.”

Who, exactly, are those people? When a company such as Corporate Kids Events or Accent on Children's Arrangements puts on events outside its home territory, it sends managers to run the event. Those managers hire local part-time professional caregivers. Criminal background checks are done on these employees, and both companies expect them to be CPR-certified. Both Gouveia and Lyons say they look for employees who are experienced caregivers, such as retired teachers or college students going into the education field.

Security is the utmost concern for Jody Barrett, vice president of event management for Three Wide Event Management of Kansas City, Mo. Barrett plans an annual event for the retail optical chain Pearle Vision, which was held this year at the Doubletree in Monterey, Calif., for 500 people, including 30 children. She narrowed down her childcare options through a Web search, and in the end chose Corporate Kids. Between the background checks and the safety precautions, Barrett says Corporate Kids put her at ease.

As part of his background checks, Gouveia ensures that his California-based employees are TrustLine-registered, which means that they have submitted themselves to a background check by the California Department of Social Services. (See box at right.)

Lyons believes planners often overlook this “risk management” aspect of the business when they look for providers. Whether the issue is insurance, employee certifications, or background and training, planners should “do a lot of due diligence,” Lyons says. “They should have loads of questions.”

Attention to Detail

Just like parents, when planners find good childcare providers, they stick with them. Sysco's Frazier uses Corporate Kids Events regularly — “at least twice a year.” She appreciates the company's attention to detail.

“Parents are very picky about who baby-sits their kids. They wonder: ‘Are they OK? Who's watching them? If they go to the bathroom, will someone go with them?’ They [Corporate Kids] know where everyone is at every minute.”

California Resource: TrustLine

TrustLine, a California state registry of in-home childcare providers, was created by the California Legislature in 1993. It is the brainchild of Mary Beth Phillips, the mother of an infant who was blinded as a result of being violently shaken by a caregiver. That caregiver, despite a felony child abuse conviction, was later allowed to continue to work as a nanny.

TrustLine provides parents, employment agencies, and childcare providers with a registry of caregivers who have been screened for criminal records. Patty Siegel, executive director of the Child Care Resource and Referral Network, which, along with the California Department of Social Services, administers TrustLine, says that thousands of prospective caregivers have had their TrustLine applications denied since the program was implemented.

Her own office holds an annual conference for about 600 people, which includes child care for 30 children. “We make damn sure everyone is TrustLined,” Siegel says. “It's just good, safe practice.”

What to Look For

Diane Lyons, president of Accent on Children's Arrangements, New Orleans, says that planners should consider several factors when choosing a corporate childcare provider:

  • Reputation. Is the company recommended by a convention bureau? Does it have a solid, updated client list? How many years has it been the business?

  • Experience. Has the company worked with a group of the same size and age diversity?

  • Insurance and training. Does the company carry liability insurance? Are employees CPR-certified, or do they have other safety/medical training such as pediatric first aid?

  • Staff-to-child ratios. The National Association for the Education of Young Children calls for 1:3 adult-to-child ratios for children from birth to age 2, up to 1:14 ratios for children ages 9 to 12.

  • Programming. Are programs customized? Are they appropriate for the age and culture of the children?

  • Security protocol. Does the company have established safety, security, and registration procedures? How does it handle dropoffs and pickups?