It’s 8:30 p.m, dinner’s done (spaghetti and meatballs), and 6-year-old twins Michael and Mateo Lopez are snuggled under blankets, watching television in their pajamas.
But the boys aren’t at home. Michael and Mateo are at ABC & Me Childcare, a converted carpet and tile showroom amid strip malls, fast food restaurants and gas stations, in a gritty corner of a Cleveland suburb. Their mother, Alicia Fuerstenberg, will pick them up in about an hour after finishing her evening shift at a Bob Evans restaurant where she works as a waitress.
“Nine-to-five jobs are a dream,” said Alicia Fuerstenberg, a 26-year-old single mother who lives in Elyria, Ohio. “They’re all taken or you have to have a Master’s.”
The tight job market means that parents can’t always choose their working hours. Instead, they take second jobs to make ends meet or add classes to their work day to improve their skills. More than 40 percent of the American labor force works early in the morning, late at night or on weekends, according to census data. As a result, daycare has become around-the-clock care.
ABC & Me offers its services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. On this night, Michael and Mateo were among about a dozen children -- including a 3-month-old -- drifting off to sleep. On some days, the first child is dropped off at 1:30 a.m. The last pick-up is usually around midnight.
“Most families are running as fast as they can to try to pull it together and try to make it work for their kids, and make it work for them, so they can support their families,” said Ellen Galinsky, the founder and president of the Families and Work Institute.
Demand for nontraditional hours is growing. In Ohio, the number of centers offering overnight hours has doubled since 2003 and those open on weekends has quadrupled, according to the Ohio Child Care Resource and Referral Association.
ABC & Me has offered around-the-clock services since the center opened in 2007.
“That was the first thing that we were able to fill … the evening hours or the wee hours of the morning rather than the 8 to 5, 9 to 6 type of hours,” said ABC & Me owner Erin Price.
Some children arrive both before and after school. So the center’s staff tries to make things as much like home as possible -- breakfasts, lunches and dinners are cooked on-site, school-aged children do homework, and there’s a strict bedtime.
“I try to make it as consistent for them as possible, with routines -- with what they’re going to do, with the learning, with the nutrition,” said Brianna Smith, who runs the center.
Parents say they appreciate the staff’s efforts.
“They’re cooks, they’re caretakers, they’re mothers, they’re aunts, they’re sisters, they’re friends—they’re everything,” said Tiffany Bickley, a restaurant cook whose six-year-old daughter, Airalyn, is at ABC & Me from the time she leaves kindergarten, at 3:15 p.m., until her mother leaves work around 9 p.m.
She says the center’s staff is “exactly what I am, just in a different form.”
Childcare experts say it may not be perfect, but daycare centers like ABC & Me can be a source of stability for the children.
“It can be a home away from home rather than going to this person this night, and that person another night,” said Galinsky, of the Families and Work Institute. “There are other children there, so other kids are living a life you’re living -- it doesn’t seem so different.”
The center’s operators estimate that about 85 percent of their clients are single parents and a similar proportion get state aid to pay for childcare. For Tiffany Bickley, 26, an experienced babysitter was out of the question.
“They’re wanting $10 and $15 an hour,” said Bickley, who pays $29 a week for ABC & Me. “I make $10 an hour. Where does that leave me?”
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.