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Northwestern expands family support options for faculty and staff

University launches sitter network, expands support for adoption
  • New Sitters and Tutors Network connects parents with Northwestern students for childcare, tutoring and lessons
  • Temporary COVID-19 Caregiving Grant extended until Aug. 27
  • Adoption Support program expanded to include ‘stepparent’ adoptions

A new range of family support options available to members of the Northwestern community aims to expand adoption support and improve dependent care options, while also providing an opportunity for Northwestern students. 

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We know how critical it is to support our staff and faculty as whole people, not just employees, especially during such a challenging and stressful period.

Lesley Lundeen
</span><span>NUHR well-being manager</span><span>

Northwestern’s Office for Human Resources (NUHR) recently announced changes to the adoption reimbursement program, which helps eligible faculty and staff recuperate some of the costs of adoption. In addition, NUHR extended the Temporary COVID-19 Caregiving Grant program and launched a new website that allows University community members to sign up to provide or hire childcare help and other services from Northwestern students.

“We know how critical it is to support our staff and faculty as whole people, not just employees, especially during such a challenging and stressful period,” said NUHR well-being manager Lesley Lundeen. “These new forms of support allow us to expand our existing work-life and well-being offerings in ways that directly respond to our community’s needs.”

Launch of The Sitters and Tutors Network

The newly created Sitters and Tutors Network allows undergraduate and graduate students to sign up to offer childcare and tutoring services for children in the Northwestern community. Skillset options on the site range from basic childcare to test preparation and music lessons. 

The site, which only is accessible to Northwestern students, faculty and staff with a netID, allows students to create profiles highlighting their availability and services offered. Faculty, staff or students who have children can browse profiles, filtering by skillsets and schedules. In addition, parents can create postings highlighting the services they are seeking.

“We hope this new network will help support our community’s childcare and tutoring needs this summer and beyond, as well as provide flexible job opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students,” said Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer Manuel Cuevas-Trisán.

While the need for this type of platform was especially pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not the only factor driving the network’s development. The site, according to Lundeen, rounds out the University’s childcare service options, complementing benefits including a dedicated childcare referral specialist, individual parent consultations, and discounts and priority enrollment at local childcare centers.

“We heard from many parents that while center-based care is helpful for standard care needs around work and other predictable schedules, they needed a more flexible option as well,” said Lundeen, who spearheaded the creation of the network. “This solution is a great way to serve that need, while also creating opportunities for Northwestern students to share their skills.”

The website serves as a platform to foster connections between care seekers and care providers. The University does not assume responsibility for assessing caregivers’ skills. Parents have the option to request background checks, as needed.

Extension of temporary COVID-19 caregiving grant

NUHR also announced an extension to the Temporary COVID-19 Caregiving Grant program, which was created to help mitigate the unprecedented strain the pandemic imposed on caregivers.

Launched in January, the program provides one-time grants to help offset caregiving costs for dependent children or adults of eligible faculty and staff. The grants, which are based on employee income, are paid through Northwestern payroll and are subject to taxes. They have been structured to entail few administrative hurdles as possible

The grant application cycle has been extended until Aug. 27, 2021. For more information on the grants and to apply, visit NUHR’s website.

Both dependent care initiatives are supported by a newly created role in NUHR dedicated to overseeing dependent care programs and resources for faculty and staff. Angelica Viramontes is the first to hold the position of dependent care specialist and will serve as the point person for Northwestern’s caregiving support, including  developing new resources, running  the lactation space program and managing the Northwestern Working Parents Network. 

Expansion of adoption support benefit

In recognition of the evolving nature of family, Northwestern has expanded the Adoption Assistance Reimbursement Program, which reimburses eligible faculty and staff up to $5,000 of the costs associated with adopting a child.

Adoption fees vary widely and can total more than $50,000, according to the federal service Child Welfare Information Gateway. Since Northwestern’s reimbursement program was established in 2015, many faculty and staff have used the support to help cover the costs of expanding their families and welcoming new children into their lives.

“Adopting a child is a momentous decision for any parent,” Cuevas-Trisán said. “We are so happy to be able to relieve some of the financial stress associated with that decision for our faculty and staff.” 

Changes to this employment benefit include an expansion of the range of adoption types eligible for reimbursement. It now can be used to cover fees associated with “stepparent” adoption, where a second parent adopts the children of a spouse or domestic partner. This is the most common type of adoption in the U.S.

In addition, the reimbursement benefit now is available to same-sex spouses and domestic partners. Northwestern also has increased support for the adoption of children with special needs from $5,000 to $6,000.

“Over the years, this program has helped so many of our families become parents,” Lundeen said. “This expansion will make it available to even more faculty and staff as they build their families.”

The expanded measures make Northwestern’s adoption support among the strongest in higher education, on par with leaders including New York University, Columbia University and Princeton University.

Adoption support is available for faculty and staff who have worked at Northwestern for at least three years. More information about the benefit is available on Northwestern’s Human Resources website.