Irregular Work Hours and the Scramble for Child Care

Child care is hard to find and afford. Now imagine having an unpredictable work schedule that leaves you searching for child care only hours before your shift begins. This is the case for security guards and nurses on call for overnight and early morning shifts, people who work the hospitality and restaurant industries, and many others.

One in five parents in the U.S. works outside of the traditional 9:00 to 5:00 schedule, according to a new study by the Urban Institute. And half of parents who hold evening and weekend jobs receive little notice when it comes to their work schedule, which can change from week to week. This makes it difficult to find consistent, reliable child care.

Researchers found in these situations parents often turn to family, friends and neighbors to take care of their children, cobbling together multiple child care scenarios to cover their unpredictable schedules. This is the case in San Francisco, where nearly half of the families who receive child care subsidies rely on family and friends to care for their children.

If parents who work nontraditional hours decide they want a formal child care setting, they must be prepared to search around and pay an added price. The city of San Francisco only has one child care center open evenings and weekends. Child Care Centers are less likely to fulfill drop-in or last-minute care because they have strict regulations and must maintain low staff-to-child ratios.

Family Child Care (FCC) homes – caregivers who run their business from their place or residence – provide some added support. Of the 683 FCCs in San Francisco, over half offer evening, weekend and/or drop-in care, and the number is growing. This flexibility comes at an added cost, however, which can leave families in stressful financial situations.

Extensive research shows that high-quality group care (as in child care centers and FCCs) can have positive effects on children’s development. Especially for preschoolers, a formal educational setting can lead to developmental gains and prepare children for the school environment, benefitting them down the road.

Child Care Centers and FCCs do not work for everyone, however. Irregular hours, last-minute schedules, and lack of paid parental leave require friends and families to step in. Additionally, parents may value the cultural fit and opportunity for family bonding, especially for infants and toddlers. Informal caregivers provide an essential role in allowing parents to work and children to grow in a loving, enriching environment.

It really does take a village to raise a child. At Children’s Council, we want to make sure your village is equipped with every tool to support your child’s growth and development. We offer free workshops on child development, safety, nutrition, health, literacy, educational play styles, and many other topics.

Our mission is to ensure every parent understands their options and can select the highest quality child care experience, whether it is a licensed child care provider, a family member or a friend.


  1. Braden Bills

    October 27, 2016 at 7:53 am

    I want to make sure that my kids get taken care of. The main problem is the fact that my wife and I both work irregularly, so there’s no telling if we’ll both be home any given night! I’ll make sure that I start looking for a child care center.

  2. Dave Anderson

    December 12, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    I work a lot and my wife just started a business so it is hard to watch out kids during the day. I like the idea of a daycare, not only because it will help us be able to do all the things that we need to, but also because it will help our kids learn to be social. I want them to be able to interact with other kids and learn how to play and share. I think that everyone in our family will benefit from a daycare service.

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