The nonprofit Children’s Home/Chambliss Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee has provided 24-hour day care for 30 years and has become indispensable to its community. Executive Director Phil Acord said, “We see ourselves as one of the major cogs that keeps the community working and people productive.”
In a changing economy where many parents now work evening and overnight shifts, 24-hour day care centers like the Chambliss Center are needed more than ever, but their numbers remain few. Last year, the Washington, DC-based child-advocacy group The Children’s Foundation reported that 24-hour day care facilities remain few. In Tennessee, only 30 of the state’s 6,000 day care centers offer round-the-clock service.
The reasons for this lack are many. First, despite increased demands for evening and overnight service, the number of children left during the day is still much higher than the number of children dropped off in the evening. Most centers can’t afford to pay overnight workers, given the decreased and less consistent demand for evening service.
Second, day care centers have long found it difficult to recruit and retain staff, perhaps because most day care workers earn only minimum wage, are undervalued by society, and receive poor benefits at best. Given the few perks offered to day care personnel, turnover for overnight staff is even higher.
The Children’s Home survives through the help of federal subsidies, support from donors, and its endowment. Even with this support, the Home cannot meet demands for its services. About 200 parents have signed their names to its waiting list.
Spokesman Michael Kharfen of the U.S. Department of Human Services reported that the federal government has encouraged states to support late-shift and overnight child care centers. The state of Illinois has decided to do just that, and will spend up to $1 million in an effort to help day-care centers stay open during evenings and weekends.