It's hard enough to find quality child care when you work traditional weekday hours. But what happens when you have rotating shifts, require overtime, or have to go out of town? About one-third of employees with young children work evenings, weekends, variable shifts, or more or less than 40 hours a week, according to a National Survey of the Changing Workforce. In spite of this reality, only a small number (12 to 35 percent) of childcare providers offer care outside the traditional 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. timeframe, according to a study by the General Accounting Office. Only 10 percent of family daycare providers offer weekend care. So, what are these working parents to do?
Alternative child care is on the rise, but mostly in larger communities, and the cost isn't cheap. Options such as drop-in child care can help a parent who has a "must attend" meeting, but these options don't address late night shifts or business travel. In-home providers can also be hired, but many families don't want or can't afford having a nanny, au pair, or even hourly babysitting in their home. It is a dilemma that is causing economic strain and emotional stress with families.
To drive home the impact of not having nontraditional child care at traditional daycare prices, Bright Horizons consultants surveyed more than 100,000 employees at various businesses/industries over three years. It reported that unresolved childcare issues holds back a significant number of working parents from the following:
- 60 percent are unable to work overtime or longer hours
- 50 percent cannot travel for business purposes
- 49 percent have issues with arriving at work on time
- 46 percent do not pursue or accept a higher position within their company
- 39 percent are not as productive as they could be
Problems in finding quality child care
when working nontraditional hours aren't limited to parents who need to work more hours. Parents who opt to have one family member work part-time, for example, may find that childcare is either more expensive (offsetting the value of part-time work) or is unreliable in that many daycare centers can't guarantee their child a spot on a part-time or on-call basis. To be fair, daycare centers are working on tight child-adult ratios and a child enrolled full-time provides a better profit and more stability than one who is only there on occasion.
What are possible solutions when cost is a major concern?
Here are options that work for many families and are worth consideration:
Seek out a college student. Since most students take their courses in the morning, or even stack them into either a Monday-Wednesday-Friday or a Tuesday-Thursday schedule, it's possible to find a caring individual who can watch your kids in your home when not in school. While the hours may change slightly by semester, you can have consistent care that is reliable. Most colleges even have job boards where you can advertise the days needed and rate you're willing to pay.
Create a nanny work share. This is done more often than you think. If you need a nanny for certain hours and another family needs one for different hours, pool your efforts and time to create a win-win situation. A nanny may get paid slightly more for the dual role (two sets of kids, even at different times, still requires more effort), but both families will benefit. Just remember that you can't encroach on the other family's time. A possible downside is when one of you loves your nanny or schedule and the other doesn't, so the best arrangements are with good friends who similar expectations. Contact a nanny agency for a good starting point.
Ask traditional child care providers for references. Just because a traditional family provider or daycare operator doesn't offer extended hours doesn't mean they don't know one who will. Ask around for recommendations. Consider asking a provider/center you are already familiar with if they'll consider adding one evening each month or occasional weekend work. You may find providers have ideas or solutions you had never considered.
Ask your employer for child care assistance. If your boss is asking you to take a business trip or work extra hours, be upfront in explaining your dilemma. Who knows? Maybe they will offer to pay for extra time or help to negotiate a great rate that you might not otherwise have received. Some employers offer "family stipends" to help out with business travel or extended hours. A growing number of employers are even creating their own corporate daycare to help parents in similar situations where nontraditional care may be needed.
Offer a babysitter special perks. If you're only needing a responsible babysitter to safely watch your child but don't require all the other needs such as enrichment or pre-school prep, then offer some perks to make a variable schedule worthwhile. Having time for homework, convenience dinners already prepared, or even free movie rentals can entice a qualified teen. Sometimes, your biggest need is having someone transport your child to lessons or soccer after school and staying at practice. That gives a babysitter free time during practice times, and you can sweeten the offer by paying for gas and offering a free oil change or car wash on occasion.
Tap on close friends or neighbors for a kid exchange deal. Maybe your boss needs you to work late every Wednesday. Perhaps you can swap care with a friend on that night and in exchange offer to keep her kids on Fridays for a kid-free date night! No money is actually exchanged, and both families benefit.
Negotiate rates at drop-in childcare places. While hourly rates at these places tend to be higher, a confirmed customer on a set schedule may mean they are willing to lower rates. Some families who are consistent users of such facilities say that they end up getting as good of a deal--sometimes even better--than advertised rates by setting up a monthly schedule based on work requirements. It's worth a shot to ask!
Request family help. Many young families ask their parents or relatives to lend a hand in child care. Most are all-too happy to do so. Just be careful to not overburden them or become too critical of the free help!