The Rise of 24-Hour Childcare Centers

·Writer
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Children at Dee’s Tots Childcare in New Rochelle, New York. Photo: Alice Proujansky

The first time I saw a nanny pick up Kaley, a little girl in my son’s daycare, running in just like me at 6:30 p.m. as the center closed, I thought nothing of it. I knew the 2-year-old’s mother and father often worked long hours. The second and third time that week, I started to feel badly for Kaley. Like my son, with whom Kaley often ate dinner at daycare, she probably hadn’t seen much of her parents in a few days. But Kaley and my little one have it made compared to an increasing number of kids in 24-hour childcare who aren’t even able to sleep in their own beds most nights.

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Children at Dee’s Tots Childcare in New Rochelle, New York. Photo: Alice Proujansky

“Many Americans now can’t necessarily choose when to work and when to parent,” writes Alissa Quart in her article, “The Rise of Extreme Daycare,” published November 10 in the magazine Pacific Standard. In fact, nearly 40 percent of Americans have non-standard work lives, often with unpredictable hours making child care a real challenge – especially for the 28 percent of children living with a single parent in 2013.

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Such is the story of Marisol, a woman Quart interviewed about putting her two young girls in day-and-overnight care at Deloris Hogan’s Dee’s Tots Childcare in New Rochelle, New York, one of the rising number of childcare centers open seven days a week. The mother is “raising the girls on her own, working at a supermarket from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. and at Home Depot from 6 to 10 p.m., six days a week,” writes Quart. “The girls are at the Hogans’ for both of her shifts, and she’s with them between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. each day.” Marisol tells Quart: “I worked one job 29 hours a week, so I got a second job, as I can’t afford to take care of my kids — I need more money to be surviving.”

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And she is not alone. The average American adult now works one and a quarter jobs, all too many capped at 29 hours because if an employee works more hours, employers are required to provide health insurance. “Working people who live below the poverty line are particularly afraid to say no to these unusual schedules,” reports Quart. “They may have no one to say no to, anyway — those schedules might have been created by computers, rather than human managers, in the hopes of saving corporation money. Many companies now use data and algorithms to schedule employees so fewer hours will be spent sitting around.The software doesn’t care if a shift falls in the middle of the night. Or that it might tear a big hole in an employee’s family life.” The New York Times also tackled the complications this situation can cause in their much-publicized August profile of a Starbucks’ employee.

And of course, these situations have an impact on the children. “Research shows that family routine and rituals reduce anxiety in kids,” child psychologist Dr. Alan E. Kazdin, Director of the Yale Parenting Center, tells Yahoo Parenting. “I hesitate to spell it out, because you have a bunch of moms running around feeling guilty already, but we know that the quantity and quality of time parents spend with kids makes a difference in the child’s development. It teaches them impulse control and aids in emotional development.” Remove the stability of a bedtime routine and sleeping in the same bed every night, he says, and it may seriously stress children out, not to mention exacerbate any behavioral problems they may already be having. “You want as much contact as you can with your child,” he says. “And while good care is necessary, of course, and can be great, it isn’t contact.”

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Children at Dee’s Tots Childcare in New Rochelle, New York. Photo: Alice Proujansky

Left so often away from home without their parents, Quart reports that a few of the kids at Dee’s Tots seemed “parentified,” in other words, wise beyond their years. She writes, “One night, the Hogans played the film Coraline, a dark fantasy about a child whose real mother is replaced by a fake one, replete with buttons for eyes. One of the kids turned to me and said, ‘Why do children think parents are going to save them?’ She paused. ‘That’s stupid.’”

A parents’ overnight absence can be offset by a loving relationship between children and caregivers, Dr. Tovah Klein, Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive, tells Yahoo Parenting. But it’s still an inherently stressful situation for kids. “For a child, knowing where they will be and who will take care of them, with some predictability is an important piece of feeling safe and taken care of,” she says. “If the reality is that a parent has to work a night shift, then a child needs love, comfort and continuity in their nighttime care.”

Therein lies the rub: Parents at the mercy of ever-changing work schedules, with no family to help or means to bring a caregiver into their home, simply can’t provide continuity because of the nature of their jobs.

“It’s a terrible situation,” Jennifer Owens, Editorial Director of the Working Mother Research Institute, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Having a schedule set just a week in advance is really hard on everyone. What parents have to do to support their families, in this economy with such low wages, it’s unconscionable.” The fact that 24-hour childcare centers exist is a godsend, she insists. “It’s an awful situation to be in but I’m thankful there is someone coming up with a way to help.”

Helpful or harmful, round the clock care is ultimately still just a Band-Aid for the bigger problem. “We need to create worker-focused schedules,” Owen says. “Team-based flexibility, often practiced among nursing staff, is one answer.” But what it really comes down to, she says, is the phrase, “schedule stability.”

She adds, “This whole phenomenon of working two jobs and so many schedule changes puts undue pressures on working families.” 

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