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COVER STORY : Swing-Swift Kids : As the Number of Workers With Irregular Hours Grows, Many Parents Are Turning to 24-Hour Child Care. 'I See a Lot of Low-Income Mothers Who Truly Care About Their Kids, but Have No Choice but to Take a Night Job or an Overnight Job,' Says One Licensed Provider. 'Every Night, I Have at Least One Child Who Stays Over.'

July 24, 1994|Diane Seo

Bundled in a nylon jacket and a pink-and-white teddy bear jumpsuit, Shanice Cannon peeks out of Agnes Lewis' living room window, checking to see if her mother's Toyota Camry has pulled into the driveway.

Shanice's mother, Sharon, is running a little late, but the 15-month-old baby is hardly perturbed as she happily wriggles in Lewis' lap.

Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary at the Lewis household--which has served as a family child care facility for the past 13 years--except for one thing: It's nearly 1 in the morning.

As the number of employees working swing and graveyard shifts, weekends and other irregular hours grows, many parents--particularly single parents--are turning to late-night and overnight child care. Although few child care centers provide overnight care, nearly 200 licensed family care providers in the Los Angeles area now offer such services out of their homes and apartments.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 18, 1994 Home Edition City Times Page 4 Zones Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Theresa Anyim--A July 24 City Times story about 24-hour child care identified Theresa Anyim as a single parent. She is married. The story also said that Anyim's daughter was a regular overnight guest at a 24-hour service. Anyim has only used the service twice at night.

"Nowadays, people have all kinds of jobs with all kinds of hours, so it makes sense to offer 24-hour care," said Lewis, an Inglewood family care provider who watches children from such areas as the Crenshaw district and Ladera Heights. "A lot of people turn to family care because child care centers aren't always willing to be flexible with parents who work odd hours."

Cannon, a single parent who lives just south of Ladera Heights, was referred to Lewis by Crystal Stairs, one of 10 child care resource and referral agencies in Los Angeles County.

A letter sorter for the U.S. Postal Service,

Cannon works from 3:30 p.m. to midnight. Her schedule isn't ideal, but it's an improvement over the 6 p.m.-to-2:30 a.m. shift that she used to work.

"I'm doing the best I can," said Cannon, who is pregnant with her second child. "It's hard because I don't have anyone who can help me out. If Agnes wasn't around, I'd probably have to quit my job."

In the Central Los Angeles area bounded roughly by Beverly Hills, Monterey Park, Hollywood and Gardena, there are 178 licensed family care providers who offer 24-hour care, according to Crystal Stairs, the Mexican-American Opportunity Foundation, and Child and Family Services, three child care resource and referral agencies that service the area.

The need for round-the-clock care persists because of the prevalence of single parents, the increasing number of non-traditional jobs and the weak economy, said Cecilia Rojas, an outreach specialist for Crystal Stairs, which services South-Central and Southwest Los Angeles.

Last year, 27% of children under 18 lived with only one parent, up from 12% in 1970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And on the job front, 14 million full-time employees--18% of the nation's full-time work force--worked something other than a daytime shift in 1991. This represents an addition of 2 million such workers over the previous six years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

The government agency also estimates that the top five growth occupations in the 1990s will be waiters and waitresses, registered nurses, janitors and cleaners, managers and cashiers--all of which require long hours and some off-hour shift work.

"People are accepting whatever job they can get, even though it may require them to work non-traditional hours," Rojas said. "It's just a way of life."

"There's a need for 24-hour care, especially for single parents, because many don't have anyone else who can watch their children," said Pat Onuorah, who offers 24-hour family care at her Ladera Heights home. "I see a lot of low-income mothers who truly care about their kids, but have no choice but to take a night job or an overnight job. Every night, I have at least one child who stays over."

Onuorah is licensed to care for 12 children at any given time, a typical number for family care providers. And like most providers, Onuorah, who works at the Watts Health Foundation during the day, hires assistants to help her watch children and prepare meals.

On a recent evening, about a dozen children were sprawled on Onuorah's living room floor, playing games, eating spaghetti and watching the video "Aladdin."

One baby in the room was scheduled to stay with Onuorah for four days. "He's very adaptable and independent," Onuorah said of the 15-month-old boy, whose mother is a flight attendant. "He's been going to baby-sitters ever since he was born."

Another 14-month-old baby, Mary Anyim, is also a regular overnight guest at Onuorah's home.

"If I have to take care of business or if I want to go out at night, I bring her here," said Mary's mother, Theresa, a single parent who lives nearby. "She likes it here. When I bring her here, I don't worry because everything is like home."

Every Thursday, Eric Scaraglino, 3, spends the night at Elizabeth Wolfe's Hollywood home, while his mother, Rose, attends a parents' support group meeting.

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