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Westside / COVER STORY : Home Away From Home : Overnight Child Care Provides Parents New Freedom on the Job

August 04, 1994|SUSAN STEINBERG and DIANE SEO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THE DAY IS TURNING to evening as 5-year-old Zachary and 3-year-old Jonathan Witherspoon arrive at Debi Magdaleno's West Los Angeles home, each boy toting a Ninja Turtle backpack containing a toothbrush, pajamas and a favorite toy.

"I'm late, I'm late. Give me a kiss goodby," Denise Witherspoon tells Jonathan, her son, and Zachary, her nephew.

The boys clamber out of the car and Jonathan dutifully kisses his mother. Zachary runs to greet Magdaleno and her 7-year-old daughter, Marina, who are waiting to welcome the boys.

Waving farewell, Witherspoon rushes off to begin her 7 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift as a bone marrow transplant nurse at UCLA Medical Center, while Magdaleno takes the children in the back yard to play for a few minutes in the fading light.

The scene is a typical slice of day care life--except, of course, that this day care starts at dusk. The Magdaleno house, which has been a family child care facility for two years, is soon full of activity: As Magdaleno prepares a dinner of pizza, fruit and milk, Zachary, Jonathan and Marina are busy coloring and playing with their Play-Doh. After eating every slice of pizza, the children change into their pajamas, brush their teeth, and snuggle in bed for story time.

The pattern is familiar to the children; the boys usually spend two nights a week with Magdaleno, a licensed child care provider. When bedtime comes, they settle down to sleep with a minimum of fuss.

As the number of employees working irregular hours grows, many parents--particularly single parents--are turning to late-night and overnight child care.

For some, it's having to work late hours or meet with clients in the evenings. For others, the traditional hours of child care must be extended because of graveyard and swing-shift work in the manufacturing or service industries.

"I benefit from working at night, because I get paid more than I would during the day," said Witherspoon, a single parent who has been working late shifts since 1988. "And the boys have a stable place like Debi's to go. It's a home atmosphere, so they go from our home during the day to another home at night."

Although few child care centers provide late-night and overnight care, many family care providers in and near the Westside offer such services out of their homes and apartments. In the area bounded by Malibu in the north, Redondo Beach to the south and Silver Lake on the east, there are more than 200 licensed family care providers that offer 24-hour service, according to child care referral agencies.

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Parents are increasingly seeking after-hours child care for a range of reasons, said Tracey Dickson of Connections for Children, a Santa Monica child care referral agency that serves much of the Westside. Some parents use overnight care service regularly while they work or periodically while they attend evening meetings. Prominent among the customers are single parents, whose numbers are growing nationwide.

Last year, 27% of children under 18 lived with only one parent, up from 12% in 1970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 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 labor bureau 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 will require long hours and some off-hour shift work.

Some parents only need care that extends a few hours past the traditional, end-of-the-workday pickup time.

Anita Charles of West Los Angeles said she has taken care of little Stefano Lazano for almost a year, six days a week. Lazano, who is almost 3 years old, stays with Charles and her three children from morning to almost 9 p.m. while his father works late as a store manager and his mother holds down her job as a flight attendant.

"Money-wise, there is no advantage to (taking) children at night, and it is more responsibility," Charles said. "But I try and help those parents out there who need the help, because I'm a parent, too."

Other parents seek all-night 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," said Pat Onuorah, who offers 24-hour family care at her Ladera Heights home. "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 her living room floor, playing games, eating spaghetti and watching the video "Aladdin."

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