Night childcare a lifesaver for shift workers

Night childcare a lifesaver for shift workers

Beauty, flaunt it or hide it? Principal ballerina Gina Tse remembers the nights when she would dash from a performance to the childcare centre to pick up her son, Jacy.

There was that memorable Saturday when she danced her heart out in the biggest role of her career - as Princess Odette in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake - and the thunderous applause continued long after the final curtain call.

Backstage, people were pushing forward to offer congratulations and press bouquets into her arms.

But the single mother had to get her four-year-old from the night dagi - a pre-school providing after-hours care.

It was almost midnight and freezing cold as she was pushing his pram. "I was still burning from the performance. I'd just danced in front of thousands, but in that moment, I felt most on my own. It brought me back to earth. This is life, this is the stuff that matters, trying to get him home before it's too late," she says.

That was two years ago, and Ms Tse says she could not have pulled her life together after her marriage collapsed if not for the flexible childcare available.

She is one of many parents juggling work and parenthood and needing childcare at inconvenient hours.

In the last five years, the number of children aged one to 12 in after-hours care has increased by 50 per cent, from 3,817 to 5,770, says Ms Erika Karlenius, political adviser to Education Minister Gustav Fridolin.

Across Sweden, there are about 170 municipalities with pre-schools that stay open during evenings, at night and on weekends. Most childcare centres typically open from 6am to 6pm, Mondays to Fridays.

One place that opens 24/7 is Galaxen Forskola (Galaxy Pre-school), where Ms Tse placed Jacy. It is one of the largest branches of the private pre-school chain Halsans Forskola.

"Sweden is becoming a 24-hour society, with more people working later, so they need night dagis," says Ms Lena Wernholm, 63, its overnight care coordinator. Shift workers like restaurant employees, hospital and theatre staff and transport workers often need help with childcare.

For Ms Tse, 35, being a single mum has made it tougher. A whirlwind romance brought her from London to Sweden in 2004, but she and her husband split up when Jacy was three months old.

To build a new life, she returned to ballet and performing with the Royal Swedish Ballet. The day after her baby turned one, she enrolled him in overnight care at Galaxen Forskola. "The first three years of Jacy's life were the hardest, but the dagi saved me," she says.

Theatre hair and make-up artist Catharina Lundin, 43, is raising her two-year-old daughter Juno mostly by herself. Her musician boyfriend often goes out of town for shows. "I have no extended family, and Juno's grandparents don't live in the city," she says.

It costs too much to get help at home. Parents pay about 800 Swedish kroner (S$140) a month at Galaxen Forskola, compared with 180 kroner an hour for a professional babysitter.

"When I first started at the night dagi a month back, I wanted to hug the teachers for a long time. It made me so happy to know Juno was being taken care of," recalls Ms Lundin.

Galaxen Forskola has a team of eight teachers who take turns to supervise the night class. The children go to bed by 9pm, after which the teacher-in-charge is expected to stay up to watch over them.

Veteran teacher Karin Schylberg, 52, does not mind the hours. "It's nice and quiet at night. I get to spend more personal time with the children and know them better," she says.

There are about 20 to 30 children enrolled for night care.

"This childcare centre is popular among parents in the entertainment business and health-care sector, as it's the only school in central Stockholm with this service," says Halsans Forskola director Lena Rebane, 54.

In Sweden, it is legal for children as young as one to be enrolled in childcare.

The rising demand and trend towards 24-hour facilities mark another milestone in Swedish childcare arrangements, with the needs of minority groups like night shift workers and single parents being met.

There are about five of such childcare centres in Stockholm alone. Since last year, there has been a state grant of 31 million kroner a year to support municipalities that provide after-hours care. The grant will be raised to 80 million kroner a year from next year.

This recognises the fact that the labour market has changed and people are expected to work shifts.

Jacy is now six and no longer at the night dagi, but last month, he attended a special reunion dinner in his old classroom, with other children he used to spend his evenings with.

Says Ms Tse: "It was very emotional for us, seeing Jacy's old teachers, and meeting the other mothers again."

suntimes@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 23, 2014.
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