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24 Hour Child Care?

Lorelei Atalie Vargas, MA, MPP is the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at ANDRUS.

As ANDRUS prepares to open the doors to our new and expanded child care program in Tuckahoe, NY, a recent article in the New York Times (Day Care Centers Adapt to Round-the-Clock Demand and a blog on the same topic, Day Care That’s Available at Night, Too- January 16, 2012) focused on the economic changes that are altering the working hours of our labor force, and creating a demand for 24 hour child care centers.  The article cites that “40% of the American labor force now works some form of non-standard hours” begging the question, Should child care centers open 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

There are many issues with this concept that can easily fuel a debate.  The realities are that while most parents would prefer to have their children sleep in their own beds, in their own homes, there are other forces at play.  First, hiring a private baby sitter is expensive and leaves the parent at the whim of the baby sitter.  If the baby sitter becomes ill or doesn’t show up, the parent is left scrambling to find last minute care.  A child care center is a reliable resource. If a staff member is sick, the center calls an alternate, and mom can rest assured that she will not have to worry about who will care for her child.  Second, parents who work in certain industries including health care, home care, casinos, fast food and maintenance can only retain their employment if they have the flexibility to work “after hours”.  For example a janitorial shift in an office building often begins at 6 p.m., when most child care programs are closing for the day.  Finding flexible care is imperative to the financial stability of these families.

What the article in the Times fails to mention is that public policy has, perhaps unintentionally created this demand, not for parents of high socioeconomic standing, but for the shrinking middle class and poor population. Furthermore, single mothers (and fathers) and grandparents who are raising their grandchildren are also in need of this level of support, as they work low wage jobs to make ends meet, while caring for their children.  Child care centers play an important role in our society. Child care providers are charged with taking care of America’s future.  All of our children are vulnerable and creating a safe and nurturing space where children can spend time while their parents are working is important.  Child care is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity for family survival and quality child development.