Today’s job market requires many employees to work shifts that begin or end after the opening or closing time of most child care programs. An increasing number of businesses are operating 24 hours a day.

Many companies work on a shift basis, which means employees can work either early in the morning, late at night, early in the morning, on rotating schedules, on weekends, on holidays, or with extended shifts. These non-traditional work schedules affect the lives of millions of families.

Hospital employees are just one example of parents who work unaccustomed hours and face particular difficulties in finding child care or family support services. From hotel staff and police officers to store clerks and factory employees whose services are required beyond the typical workday, finding child care services that fit into non-traditional work schedules can be difficult.

Child Care Options

Changing schedules and unusual hours at work pose serious problems for many working parents. There are currently few child care programs for families who require such services at non-traditional times.

Most child care centers and providers operate Monday through Friday during normal business hours. Parents require child care services during their working hours, whatever those hours may be. Finding child care services can be difficult, and the options are few.

For some parents, the solution to the child care problem is to work alternate shifts. For example, you may work the night shift while your spouse or partner works during the day.

Often, these arrangements require your relatives or friends to fill in the “gaps” and overlap in work schedules, as well as those times when the schedule begins to fall apart. This leaves little time for parents or all family members to be together. It is an extremely busy schedule.

Often, child care offered in the provider’s home is the type of care that can best meet the needs of those parents who work non-traditional schedules. Such an arrangement is more likely to offer flexible hours.

Sometimes there are centers that serve employers, or communities where many families work late shifts, early morning shifts, or night shifts.

Sometimes parents are forced to resort to more than one regular childcare arrangement to cover all the hours they work. For example, you may place your child in a combination of formal care services, such as those provided by a center or in a provider’s home, and informal services, such as those provided by relatives, neighbors, or youth who care for children after school and at night.

It may be possible to make arrangements to “switch” with another family. For example, for each hour of child care services you receive, you care for the other family’s child for one hour. This can be especially helpful in filling in the gaps in hours when you need child care services, even if it also means sacrificing some of your own free time.

Your local child care resource and referral organization (CCR&R) maintains a list of all state-regulated child care providers in your area. CCR&R staff can help you find child care arrangements that offer flexible hours and best fit your schedule. To find the CCR&R organization responsible for your area, search online.

Your Employer’s Role

Finding child care services with flexible hours is not easy. Extended hours are rarely offered at child care centers, and are very difficult to find in the service provided in the provider’s home. Unpredictable or erratic hours can be especially problematic when you are looking for high quality child care.

You can raise this issue with your co-workers, supervisors, and management staff. You may find that by bringing this issue to your employer’s attention, you are making them aware of the problem for the first time. Explain that parents cannot work productively unless child care is available where and when they need it. Success in the workplace is directly associated with affordable and accessible child care services.

Some employers support efforts to identify providers who offer child care services in their homes near the workplace or in the areas where their employees live. Networks of homes offering child care services may be formed.

Your employer may also be sensitive to your needs in other ways. Determine if it will be possible to modify or change your work schedule. Ask if information can be shared among all employees during work hours through support groups and parenting seminars.

Group discussions about strategies for finding child care services, managing non-traditional work schedules, and balancing work and family life will benefit everyone.

How to Find Solutions

Some businesses have begun to address the lack of non-traditional child care services. For example, an employer in Kentucky has opened a child care center on the company’s premises that is in operation 24 hours a day to accommodate the company’s different work schedules.

In North Carolina, Purdue Farms managers began discussions with local residents who provided child care in their homes when, after developing plans for a shift change for employees, they projected a shortage of such services.

In other areas, employers have joined together to create child care centers and offer services collectively to employees of all companies. Others have agreed to recruit and train child care providers who can offer such services during non-traditional hours.

Some communities are addressing the difficulty of finding child care services for non-traditional hours using a wide variety of both traditional and innovative approaches. One program in South Carolina trains adolescents to provide child care services after school hours. E

n California, a center serves the families of workers at the San Francisco Airport and related businesses, offering child care services from 5:00 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, and allows parents to set new hours each month. This program was created through the joint efforts of employers, labor unions, local governments and community groups.

What Can Be Done

There is no perfect solution, and there is still much to be done. The time has come to raise awareness of the need for specialized child care services and to build bridges between employers, parents, service providers, and community service agencies. You can help by talking to your employer.

Describe the need for non-traditional child care hours and explain that company support can help attract and retain employees. Overall, there can be a significant reduction in absenteeism and an increase in employee morale.

Businesses often begin with a kind of survey to define current child care needs, inventory local child care providers, and determine what the best response should be. Typically, few providers offer child care services during non-traditional hours and many parents require such services, so the survey will serve to identify these gaps.

Some states now offer incentives for providers to extend their hours of operation, and efforts to identify new providers have been duplicated. The key to future success is to engage more employers, service providers, and community members who see flexibility in child care hours as an important resource.