Nurseries are offering overnight care to accommodate working parents

Jan 11, 2016 at 12:15 p.m. ET
Image: Allen Donikowski/Moment/Getty Images

We live in a 24/7 world. We can pop to the supermarket at 3 a.m., if the desire takes us. Thanks to the Internet, we can shop, book a holiday and pay our bills while everyone else is asleep. And now we can pay to have our children looked after beyond the traditional nursery opening hours.

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An increasing number of U.K. nurseries are offering night-time care for children — which is hardly surprising in light of a new report into the 'work-family balance' in the U.K., which revealed that almost half of 2,000 U.K. workers are missing out on putting their kids to bed or seeing them in the mornings because of the demands of their job.

According to TUC research from last year, one in eight U.K. workers works antisocial hours, which means three million people are working while the rest of the country sleeps. The two sectors with the highest percentage of night workers — care workers and nursing and midwifery — are female-dominated but the percentage of female workers in other sectors is on the rise too. Overall, regular night working has increased by 12 percent for women since 2007.

One nursery offering childcare 24 hours a day, seven days a week is Bay Tree House Nursery in Catford, South-East London, reports MailOnline. The nursery only closes on bank holidays and Christmas Day, with no official limit for how long children can stay.

"There are an awful lot of people in this part of London who don't have an extended family to call upon," says owner Janet Hogman. "The late service and the early drop off have really taken off," she added, revealing that one to three children stay around two nights a week. So far, a child has had to remain in the nursery for 48 hours on two occasions: one when the mother was in hospital and had no one to help and the other when the mother was away on business.

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Extended nursery care may make life easier for working parents but what about the children?

"It might be good for job opportunities but this is getting priorities wrong," early years teacher Nancy Stewart told MailOnline. "Raising children is one of the most important jobs there is and it can't be delegated. Children need to settle to sleep and wake up knowing the person they trust is there for them, otherwise they can become anxious and stressed, which in turn can impact on their ability to stay healthy, to learn, and to feel good about themselves and other people."

Author Penny Tassoni raises another concern: the fact that children who regularly spend nights at nursery may experience feelings of insecurity and aggression. Typically a child is at her most tired and vulnerable at night time and may struggle to bond with one particular nursery worker due to changing shift patterns and a high turnover of staff.

However nurturing the nursery environment is can it ever really replace home? Those of us who are fortunate enough to live near family who can help with childcare, or have a job that is flexible enough to make the kids a priority when necessary, are lucky that we won't ever have to give this question any serious thought.

But for many people extended hours or even overnight childcare is the only option. Think about the single mother who works long shifts, day and night, as a nurse, and has no relatives she can call on for help. Before we rush to criticise, we should consider what other options she has.

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