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UK's '24-hour society' triggers growth in nurseries offering overnight care

Article By: Melissa McAlees, News Editor

A growing number of nurseries are offering overnight care for children as the demands of unsociable working hours and financial worries are placing an increasing amount of pressure on parents.

Fortunately, many nurseries are now offering round-the-clock care in a bid to support those parents who are working shifts or long-distance jobs.

Care4urkidz 24/7 Nursery in Dudley, West Midlands, was established by Rachel Simner after running a successful childminding business for three years. She explained: “I decided to go into the childcare sector from a different angle as I could see that childcare was very mainstream, with limited provision of services only covering hours Monday to Friday, from 7am until 6pm.

“In 2001 I opened the nursery to parents who needed childcare on a flexible timetable to meet their working needs and ensured their children had a safe, happy and stimulating environment to be in.

“It wasn't long before I realised that I couldn't physically work the 24/7 spectrum by myself and started to hire staff to support me in my mission. By 2009 we needed a bigger premises and moved to where we are now. We provide for up to 25 children at any one time and have seven staff on payroll.”

Needs of the working parent

Research from the Scottish Widows’ think tank, the Centre for the Modern Family, has revealed that approximately 1,000 working parents are missing out on eating evening meals with their family, putting their children to bed or seeing them in the mornings due to working demands.

In addition, 60 per cent of UK workers believe flexible working hours would be beneficial to them, yet only 34 per cent work in an environment where flexible shift patterns are offered.

Anita Frew, chair of the Centre for the Modern Family, said: “UK workers are clearly struggling to find a happy equilibrium between work and family life, with working parents feeling the strain most acutely. At the same time, it is clear that employers could be doing more to support their workers to juggle the pressures of work and family.

“It’s time to re-think traditional ways of working and move towards a more agile approach. This will not only help employees forge a better work family balance, but improve productivity, returning benefit to employers. We need to show businesses and Government that the nation’s ‘work family balance’ has see-sawed too far in the direction of work. Together, a new, relevant approach must be found to help restore our equilibrium.”

’Fluidity of care’

With the UK now having the highest proportion of people regularly working at night in the EU, and with many working parents racing to collect their children from nursery to ensure they do not get fined for a late pick-up, there is now a huge demand for out-of-hours childcare services.

Care4urkidz offer the round-the-clock service to support parents who may work outside the norm of a 9-5 job, including: doctors, police officers and care workers.

Although a typical day at the nursery starts at 8am and ends at 6pm, the nursery offers flexible childcare between the hours of 6am and 11pm. Care required outside of those hours is considered an overnight session.

A daytime room in the nursery has been converted into an overnight facility and at least one member of staff is awake throughout the night. The duty manager is also on-site and on-call should an emergency arise.

Due to early starts and late finishes, each child is allocated a ‘buddy’ member of staff to complement the key worker system and to ensure the fluidity of care.

‘Complete childcare solution’

“Our service is bespoke and in-line with the challenges and needs of the working parent today. We aim to provide the complete childcare solution through the provision of a range of services: including flexible, overnight care.

“Parents feel comfortable leaving their children during ‘unsociable hours’ as we offer a very homely environment and keep the routine of the setting as close to the child’s home style as possible,” Ms Simner explained.

“If a child is spending the evening or night with us they would have had quality time at home before coming in. We are very big advocates of the home/work balance so we wouldn't encourage an excessive amount of time at nursery on a week by week basis.

“We also discourage parents from overusing the service through a fair fees system, and restrictions on their contracts, which are devised individually to suit each parent’s needs.

“The role of the staff members at night is to watch over the sleepers and tend to them should they wake. It also gives staff an opportunity to complete tasks that prove more challenging on a dayshift such as resources rotation, putting up displays and completing learning journeys.

“We don't pay additional supplements to staff, as this would mean passing that cost to parents which would make the service unaffordable,” she added.

Impact on young children

However, while the availability of 24-hour care is a ‘life-saver’ for many, some question the impact an increased time away from parents has on young children.

While fully appreciating the difficulties for working parents, Jennie Lindon, child psychologist and early years consultant, believes we can never stop asking, ‘What is it like for the child? Would they prefer to be in their own homes?’

She points out that ‘children's lives should not be driven by an adult working-life agenda’.

Some worry that overnight nurseries and increased time with nursery staff can lead to children becoming confused about the relationship between themselves and those looking after them.

Similarly, some are concerned that nurseries tend to have a high turnover of staff, which can make it difficult for children to bond with one particular member of staff.

It is currently unknown what the long-term effects on children are, but several studies have found that long hours in childcare - especially before the age of two - can be linked to feelings of ‘insecurity’ and ‘aggression’ when the child eventually goes to school.

While some researchers suggest these side effects disappear by the age of ten, others maintain these ‘damaging effects’ are evident years later.

'Competitive edge’

Purnima Tanuku - Chief executive of NDNA

Child psychologist and author, Penelope Leach, explains the effects overnight childcare can have on children in 'Child Care Today: What We Know and what We Need to Know'. She writes: “More nurseries and day centres, anxious to have a competitive edge in all aspects of childcare, are beginning to explore extended hours and overnight care and more of what we think of as parenting is being passed over to nurseries.

“We're asking small children to 'work' as it were - be away from home doing something they've got to do - for nearly twice as long as we would expect an adult to.”

However, Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), believes there should be a ‘balance between providing sufficient, flexible support for working parents and ensuring we meet the needs of children for high-quality childcare.’

She commented: “As Britain moves towards becoming a 24-hour society, there is more likelihood that parents will have to use a variety of childcare to enable them to work shifts or longer hours with a commute.

“Nurseries will have to look at the viability of opening longer hours to meet demand, but will also need to ensure there’s good continuity of care for the children to maintain a quality experience. That will give nurseries a logistical challenge as these working hours will also need to be manageable for their staff.

“Many nurseries have been offering flexible hours for working parents for many years, which is why they are the first choice of childcare provider for parents.

“More partnership working may provide an answer, where different types of childcare provider work together – for example, a nursery linking with a childminder to support parents’ shift patterns.”

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