Adrienne Caldwell’s child care situation just got a little trickier. She’s a doula and massage therapist who also teaches her craft at a college in Minneapolis. When she would get in a child care bind, she used to bring her young children with her to night class. But after her 3-year-old got a little too chatty with students, she decided she shouldn’t do that again.
“He just climbed up on one of the older ladies’ laps and said, ‘I like pirates. Do you like pirates?’ ‘’ Caldwell says. “It’s cute but not very productive.”
Her husband also pulls evening shifts as a musician and retail salesman. Few day cares in their area can accommodate their schedules, so they often have to scramble to line up help from babysitters, family and friends, she says.
Research out of the University of Maryland suggests about one-fifth of the American workforce does most of its work outside the traditional 9-to-5 hours. And it can can be challenging for day care centers to meet their needs.
“As soon as you start to expand out the hours of operation, it becomes even harder to make the ends meet and to make it a profitable venture,” says Heidi Hagel-Braid, a regional director at First Children’s Finance, which offers loans and consulting help to daycare businesses in four Midwestern states.
Staffing day care around the clock can be expensive. Many in-home day care providers have their own families, making it difficult for them to operate 24/7, Hagel-Braid says.
Demand for 24-hour day care also might only exist in pockets of the economy, so some of the most successful such businesses target those pockets, she says.
“Maybe there is a large Latino population working at a processing plant,” she says. “Or there is a Somali community employed in the same type of work that is shift work or extended hours for employment.”
Nonprofits also stand a better chance of operating 24/7 because they can tap outside funding sources, like grants, to survive.
The nonprofit Legacy Family Center plans to open round-the-clock daycare in a Minneapolis suburb later this year. Board member Victoria Karpeh, a social worker, has a personal reason for trying to help families find reliable care. When her sons were younger, she often worked the graveyard shift and struggled to find day care when her husband’s work schedule would change unexpectedly.
As many as 40 percent of young, hourly employees receive their work schedules a week or less in advance, according to Julia Henly, an associate professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. She points out that parents’ overnight or unpredictable work schedules are hard for day care businesses to plan staffing around.
“They need to make sure that their child/teacher ratio stays within what is healthy and safe and good for kids,” she says.
That means some workers, like Caldwell, may never find a day care that fully meets their needs. As a doula, she never knows when she’ll get a call from an expectant mother and have to scramble yet again to find someone to watch her own kids while she guides new ones into the world.
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