After 6 p.m.


Nightcare helps daycare business succeed, parents cope :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Chicago Parent file photo Aishah Fields holds one of the children attending Blocks. Not all parents take advantage of the center's extended hours.

"All night" and "daycare" are two phrases rarely seen together. But offering later hours of care to parents has helped one Oak Park center succeed.

"We definitely meet the needs of parents," says Aishah Fields, director and owner of Blocks 24 Hour Childcare Center.

Many daycare centers insist parents pick up children by 6 p.m. Blocks is no different, charging an industry standard $1-per-minute late pickup charge. But the center differs in that its employees, with proper notice, can care for children late into the night or even overnight on most weeknights.

On Friday, the center closes no later than midnight.

Fields says many of her clients are families in which both parents work in the medical field, are going back to school, have other variable schedules or evening responsibilities that keep them from picking up their kids by 6 p.m.

"We're geared to help those parents make that transition" from evening to night, she says. Parents who work overtime or are "just having one of those days," can call before noon to extend care-at $12 to $15 an hour-past 6 p.m.

The center is open most days until about 7:30 p.m. About once a month it stays open much later.

But 24-hour care is a misnomer, says Jan Susa, the Illinois daycare licensing manager for Cook County. No child may be left in a care center for more than 12 consecutive hours, unless work responsibilities keep a parent or guardian from picking up the child.

The number of care centers licensed in Illinois for more than 12-hour care has grown to 235 in the nearly two decades Susa has held her post. But it still accounts for a fraction of total licensed facilities. In Cook County, only 57 of the 1,300 centers are licensed for after-hour care, about 4 percent, according to figures from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which licenses care centers.

There are 41 of the centers in DuPage County, and 30 more in the remaining collar counties.

Fields' Oak Park location has been successful enough for her to open a second in the Printer's Row neighborhood of Chicago at 657 S. Wells St. The new center is under construction and expected to open in a few months.

But don't expect 24-hour centers to pop up all over, says Maria Whelan, executive director of Action for Children, formerly the Day Care Action Council of Illinois. Most parents with odd work schedules prefer to have family members or neighbors care for their kids. "It's much, much easier to have your baby in your baby's bed," Whelan says.

Parents in Cook County can call Action for Children's resource and referral line at (773) 687-4000 for help in finding late-night childcare centers. Drew Carter


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