The Other Side Of Child Day Care For Parents Who Need And Can Find It, Night Care A Blessing

Judy Nolt picks up her 2-year-old son just before midnight.

Michael usually is sleeping when his mother arrives at the Hillyard home that also serves as an all-night child-care center. Slowly, Michael awakens as his mother slides his arms into his coat.

“Now that he’s getting bigger, it’s harder to put his clothes on,” Nolt said. “I hate waking him up.”

But Nolt, a single mother, is grateful to find a place that will watch her son at night when she works.

Her hours don’t run 9-to-5 Monday through Friday. The registered nurse works a swing shift and every other weekend at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

She’s like millions of Americans today.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor and a survey released last year, 18 percent of the nation’s 80.5 million full-time employees worked nontraditional hours in 1991. Only 4 percent of those workers were assigned to night shifts.

Many of them face the dilemma of finding decent child care.

“Truly, overnight care for children is very rare,” said Robin Hardman of the Families and Work Institute in New York.

“Some centers that have tried it have not done so well. There has always been concern expressed about putting kids to bed at night in a center,” Hardman said.

“But clearly there are those parents out there who need to keep their kids somewhere overnight.”

In Spokane County, there are only a handful of licensed nighttime care providers. All are based in homes that are filled to capacity. One of those places will be closing soon; another discourages parents from leaving their kids overnight.

Leona Sargent has been running Grandma’s House Day Care on the North Side for seven years. She offers care 24 hours a day, but encourages parents to find someone to care for their children in their own homes.

“I think it’s better for the kids to have an in-home baby sitter,” Sargent said. “They have to get them at such odd hours. I think at that age it’s important to keep them at home for their development.”

Some local day-care centers say they receive inquiries from parents looking for extended-hour and night child care. But they say there isn’t enough interest to warrant staying open longer.

Joan Hecker, manager of the Deaconess Child Care Center, said the center kept children until midnight when it opened a few years ago. Since January, they’ve cut those hours back to 6 p.m.

She suspects many parents who work swing and graveyard shifts leave their children with friends or other family members.

Lisa and Doug Stephens have been providing 24-hour child care in their east Spokane home for about eight years. Licensed to care for 12 kids, they are at capacity now. A few of those children spend the night.

The Stephenses have three children of their own. They have incorporated the kids they care for into their own family.

“They’re one of us,” Doug Stephens said. “This is their home away from home. For the ones who sleep over, when we eat, they eat. When we go to sleep, so do they.”

Sandi Owen leaves her 2-year-old daughter, Alison, with the Stephenses during the week.

A single mother, Owen works a mix of days and nights as a waitress. She said she needs the flexibility of around-the-clock child care because she never knows what her work schedule will be.

“Alison loves staying there. For her it’s ‘I’m going to Lisa’s to play today,”’ Owen said.

In the basement of the Stephens home is a well-constructed maze of a playroom with toys and books that all the kids are free to use.

A similar playground is set up in the back yard of Terry and Lynn Snider’s Hillyard home, where Michael Nolt spends many of his evenings.

The boy and his mother moved to Spokane a few years ago. Until Julie Nolt’s parents moved here last year, she didn’t know anyone who could care for her child.

“I just hated leaving Michael to go to work,” she said. “Terry and Lynn really made me feel comfortable leaving him with them when I used to work graveyard a year ago. They’ve loved Michael like he was one of their own.”

Ian, the Sniders’ 8-year-old son, sits at the foot of the bed Michael sleeps in every night and reads him bedtime stories.

“Both my sons play big brother to all our kids,” Lynn Snider said. “Ian really loves reading to Michael before they both go to bed. It’s a good exercise for both of them.”

Night-care providers say the key to running a good business is building a rapport with the kids. That makes the parents feel comfortable.

“You’ve got to love children to do this because they can drain you of all your energy in a hurry,” Terry Snider said. “Especially at night when you’re trying to wind down from the day.”

Child care at night costs roughly the same as a typical day care, ranging from $15 to $30 a day per child.

There are also those parents who work more traditional hours, but need care for their kids a little later in the day.

Valena O’Grady, who works at a downtown Spokane accounting firm, leaves her 2-year-old daughter Savanna with the Sniders during the week.

Though O’Grady gets off work at 6 p.m., she usually runs errands after work. Sometimes she picks up her child two or three hours after she leaves her office.

“Most day-care centers charge you if you’re late picking up your child,” O’Grady said. “I once left Savanna at a center that charged $1 a minute after 6 p.m.”

Last week, Savanna sat at a plastic miniature table setting eating her dinner in the Sniders’ living room waiting for her mother, who was running late.

The girl sat in the living room watching a rerun of “Mad About You” with Terry Snider.

When she finished her dinner, she played with the family dogs and turned a few cartwheels.

But those nights won’t last much longer for Savanna and Michael, and seven other children cared for by the Sniders. They are closing their day care at the end of the month.

“I didn’t realize what a gold mine they were until I recently had to start looking for another night-time provider,” Nolt said.

“Now I’m starting from scratch.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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