Finding quality childcare has long been a source of stress for parents. For those who work irregular or long hours—beyond the typical 9-to-5 routine—locating a trusted daycare center that can accommodate their needs can seem nearly impossible. And according to many estimates, an increasing number of people in today’s workforce are bound to non-standard work hours. Recent research from the Economic Policy Institute found that at least 17 percent of workers in the U.S. have unstable work shift schedules (which includes irregular shifts, rotating shifts, and on-call hours), and as many as 45 percent of those workers say they often experience work-family conflict.
To fill in the childcare gaps that more parents seem to be experiencing in recent years, 24-hour daycare centers have been popping up across the country. On a typical night, children at 24-hour childcare centers may be doing their homework or reading bedtime stories, and then brushing their teeth and going to bed. For parents who work the night shift, they may pick up their kids in the morning. For other parents who work odd or late hours, they may pick up their children mid-sleep to finish out the night in their own beds. These daycare centers offer overnight hours that other centers don’t offer. But are they a good idea for children? We asked pediatricians at Indiana University Health to weigh in.
The trend may be “very convenient for many parents who have to work evenings and odd hours and don’t otherwise have access to high quality childcare,” explains Meagan B. O’Neill, M.D., a pediatrician at Indiana University Health. For parents who work in 24-hour places such as hospitals, restaurants, and even casinos, cobbling together childcare among friends and neighbors can be hard on the adults and the children. The ability to give children a safe and consistent environment no matter the irregular schedule can help families function more efficiently and happily.
Of course, even 24-hour daycare can’t make up for the fact that irregular schedules take a toll on children. “Children like routine,” says Mary McAteer, M.D., a pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Even if children can count on the daycare setting to be open, a predictable routine there may be lacking. For instance, kids may end up getting homework help from a rotating number of daycare workers depending on the day, or they may be sleeping in a different bed depending on how many children are at that facility that night. It could feel very unsettling.
What’s more, children’s sleep may suffer. It’s possible that if children “sleep at daycare some nights and at home other nights, they may have greater sleep disruption and/or difficulty falling or staying asleep either at daycare or at home,” notes Dr. O’Neill.
Despite these potential pitfalls, Dr. McAteer notes that a 24-hour daycare center may be the best option in some situations. “If the center is licensed, certified, and follows safety protocols, it might be the safest place for a child to sleep or for that childcare handoff to occur,” says Dr. McAteer. She recommends the center have a level 4 daycare certification, which means it has high quality staff, it’s passed muster with the state department of health, and requires the staff to have ongoing training in child development and safety.
Beyond the licensing and certification requirements, Dr. O’Neill also suggests that parents trust their instincts when choosing a childcare center. One of the most important things in evaluating any daycare setting is that “the family is comfortable with the overall structure, schedule, and care that the child is receiving there,” says Dr. O’Neill.
-- By Rachel Rabkin Peachman