Jane Bradley: Nursery right to offer night cover

NOT everybody has a granny on hand to help with childcare, so why knock professional assistance, asks Jane Bradley
Late-night childcare? What is the world coming to? Picture: Sergey NovikovLate-night childcare? What is the world coming to? Picture: Sergey Novikov
Late-night childcare? What is the world coming to? Picture: Sergey Novikov

The nursery must have known it was going to be in for some flack when it first mooted the idea.

Late-night childcare? What is the world coming to? Surely all children should be tucked up in bed by 7pm, as clean and shiny as a new pin with a fresh pair of pyjamas and ruddy cheeks, to receive a goodnight kiss and a story from both parents before settling down to sleep.

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And, yes, you could have set your watch by it. As soon as news emerged that Dalkeith’s Happy Days nursery was to extend its opening hours to 10pm, all hell broke loose on the internet.

“If you can’t look after your kids, being there at the important times, and spending quality time, either give up your job or don’t have kids in the first place,” said one smug commentator.

“I think it’s an absolute disgrace to have a nursery opened until 10pm! Children should be well in their beds by that time!” proclaimed another critic.

Yes, as received wisdom goes, any parent who wants to have their child looked-after until after dark must be evil.

People are so quick to judge.

I assume the most critical are parents who haven’t had to struggle or make difficult decisions about how to look after their children. People who perhaps have grandparents on call to cover awkward childcare situations; who earn enough money that one or other parent can afford to give up work.

For the rest of the world, however, the choice is not so black and white.

Some people work shifts, others are expected to travel for their job; a few may have only occasional evening events which they are expected to attend.

While I wouldn’t put my own child into childcare as late as 10pm by choice – and thankfully, I do not have to – I can sympathise with parents in this situation. For most, it will not be a daily occurrence, or even a regular event, but to cover gaps in childcare, when they have no other choice – or risk losing their jobs.

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I have reduced my hours at work and my husband and I both work in jobs with regular hours. When everything works, it works. But on days where we have a diary clash which cannot be rectified, or one of us is unexpectedly delayed at work while the other is away, the whole system crumbles faster than a pile of Jenga blocks.

Even for parents like us with regular day jobs, if there was an option, very occasionally, of paying to extend nursery hours slightly rather than move heaven and earth to collect a child on the dot of 6pm, that would be very helpful indeed.

And, according to the Happy Days Facebook page, where the nursery asked parents for their opinion on the idea, most families who plan to use the service fall into the same category as us. Many said they would find the service beneficial, especially for the early part of the evening option, picking up their child by 7:30pm – a regular bedtime for most youngsters – on a day they had to work late.

Not one parent proclaimed it to be a great idea so they could put their feet up and let somebody else regularly get their children ready for bed.

Happy Days is not the first nursery to offer extended care, proving that there is a wider need for such services.

A couple of years ago, Brent Council in London rolled out a scheme to allow childminders to provide overnight care in their homes. Children who are already comfortable in a childminder’s home, in the same way that they may be at their grandparents’ house, or the home of a family friend, could stay over when their parents were working night shifts.

In addition, a few UK nurseries, mainly in the south of England, provide 24/7, round-the-clock cover for parents who work shifts. And while that might sound harsh, it is a godsend for parents struggling to hold down a job with unsociable hours to provide for their families while ensuring their child is cared for.

People talk about society’s inability to value family life over the workplace, but it is not as simple a choice as that.

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Some people are lucky to work for flexible employers who understand and are sympathetic to the trials and tribulations of family life; others have roles which can easily be carried out with a degree of flexibility, such as working from home, or utilising flexitime.

Others, however, cannot.

A shop assistant needs to be present, in the shop, while it is open, to carry out his or her job. A doctor or dentist needs to work in a surgery at a time when their patients’ appointments have been booked.

I have a friend with a young baby who is being forced to move south – hundreds of miles away from her husband, the child’s father – to allow her to complete her training as a junior doctor once she finishes her maternity leave. The fact they both work for the NHS and are required to do irregular night shifts makes it impossible for them to juggle mainstream childcare without family assistance.

She is going to have to move in with her parents to ensure that the unsociable shifts are covered – her husband, meanwhile, is looking for jobs near to his wife’s parents’ home, but that could take some time, separating the family indefinitely.

My friend is not working full-time. She is dedicated to her son. Yet to do the job she has spent the past decade (and a lot of taxpayer funding) training for, she needs to clock off the parental night shift a couple of days a week and clock on to the hospital one.

Yes, one parent could quit work entirely (the internet appears to be stuck in the 1950s, with most critics insisting it should be the mother who stays home). In some cases, that may be financially possible, if not ideal – in others it would be nothing short of impossible.

But finances aside, some people (whisper it) might actually want to continue working in a career which they have spent the previous 30 years of their lives building up. Is that so bad?

Yet, what is ironic is that for those with ready and willing grandparental babysitters on hand, none of this is a problem. The kids go to grandma for a night – good, wholesome, family fun – while the parents fulfil work commitments or even enjoy a social night out.

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Imagine, The nursery is merely filling a gap that, in the days when people did not move around so much, relatives previously plugged.

Perhaps an imperfect solution to an impossible problem. But one which some families badly need.

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