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Nanny Diaries

When day care has a night shift

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Baby at a creche

For young parents working graveyard shifts, 24x7 crèches are proving to be a boon. Now, there is someone to put the child to bed with a lullaby and a goodnight hug.

Radhika is barely three, but she's out most of the time. Not out with anybody, not even her parents - just out of her house and in a round-the-clock crèche of sorts. Child of a single parent, her mother works in the UK and has left Radhika under the care of Esperanza, a 24-hour care centre in Hyderabad, where the little girl can be found five days of the week. For Radhika, who loves to play in the sandpit and watch Power Puff girls on television, Esperanza is her home, the staff and her tiny friends her first impressions of a family. So when her grandparents - a working couple - take her to their place over the weekend, she soon starts missing her first home, the crèche.

Radhika is not alone. In today's 24x7 world, a majority of young parents spend more than 12 hours at the workplace, leaving their kids with no option but to spend an equal amount of time, if not more, outside the warmth and comfort of their home - at full-time day-care centres.

While Radhika's is an extreme and rare example of life in the super-fast lane where responsibilities - including parental - can effectively be outsourced, there is a growing number of parents seeking safe and professional child care that stretches late into the night. Sometimes overnight. As those in the child care business highlight, there's a great demand for centres that stay open till 9 pm, or slightly later, as overworked parents grapple with unrealistic deadlines that often go post midnight.

"We also get requests for weekend care in case both the parents have to travel," says Seena Edvin, director (operations), Tom & Jerry Creche, Bangalore. The crèche has not yet officially announced its night-time care facilities but it does extend the service to its regular clients on special request.

Simi Geo, who works for Wipro, has availed the facility at Tom & Jerry Creche for her two-year-old son George. "I usually leave him there from 9 am to 9 pm. But on some days, if I get late at work, he stays there till 10 pm or even later," says Geo. For this young working mother, leaving her only child at a daycare centre is a much safer option than leaving him home with a nanny. "Ayahs are neither trust-worthy nor hygienic," she explains. "On the other hand, a good daycare provides the child with security and clean nutritious food. It also fills up his time with interesting activities."

Geo's trust in daycares, as they are sometimes called, is not exaggerated. The new centres that look after kids all through the day and night are wellequipped with gadgets like CCTV so that the mother can actually see on her computer what her child is doing at any given point of time. "We provide live updates on our website, just like a news ticker on a news website. The service can be availed on a cell phone as well. The parent can keep a tab on what the child has been doing every hour," says Raj, business development and branch head at Esperanza. These new-age care centres are a far cry from the garage-crèches run by bored housewives who wouldn't care if a child was splashing around in muck or eating from the dustbin.

Hiring nannies is something many these days don't want to do. The recent case of a nanny in Bangalore renting out the child of an IT couple to a begging cartel shocked the city. "It is extremely difficult to find a person who you can trust your newborn with," says Anisha Mitra, a Hyderabad-based call centre executive who ended up sending her child to a 24-hour daycare after trying out four nannies.

For young parents, there is nothing more important than the security of their child. That is where 24-hour crèches score over full-time ayahs. The centres maintain emergency services like night-transport, first-aid kits, chef-on-call and round-the-clock security. The staff is trained to look after children, including babies under the age of one, and know how to hold them, bathe them and feed them. They are also equipped to handle medical emergencies. "If we have an infant over for the night we even maintain a diaper-change chart and update the mother with the information," says Edvin.

The food menu at these daycares is put together by registered dieticians who take care to include different food groups to ensure that the child receives adequate nutrition. "We give parents a daily break-up of nutrients consumed by their child and access to detailed graphical analysis of nutrition over a period of time," says Raj. After a day of fun in the pool and classroom activities, kids often get cranky by night and create a fuss while eating. But the carers are taught to deal with such situations. "They tell them stories with animated expressions, chase them around, sit with them in front of the television...cajole the kid to eat somehow, just like a parent would," says Kalpana Anil, principal, Careplus World, a 24-hour crèche in Delhi where the youngest child is just three months old and stays on campus till 9 pm.

Similarly, when putting them to bed attention is paid to every minute detail. "We use tiny tot beds decorated with cut-outs of flowers and animals in soothing linen with cartoon prints and play soft music. To help the child fall asleep, we consult parents to understand his/her bed-time habits," adds Anil. As some kids like to cuddle with a particular teddy or a doll while going to sleep, the parents send the toy along with their ward. "Quite a few want to hear their favourite bedtime stories or lullabies and songs, " says Edvin.

Of course, the attention and security comes with a price tag. Usually, a 12-hour care for kids below the age of two would cost upwards of Rs 5,000 per month. For those above the age of two, it could be Rs 4,000. However, the cost goes up with the frills provided. At Esperanza, the monthly bill comes to Rs 4,000 for employees of Nasscom as they have a tie-up. It is double this for other parents. But no one's complaining.

With the women workforce in the IT industry - currently at 45 per cent - set to increase, the 'early childhood' industry is bracing itself up for a fillip. Because, as Western figures indicate, every $1 spent on child care results in a saving of $10 as employee benefit. However, the need does not stem only from working mothers. "There are many women who stay at home but are unable to take care of their children full-time because they are ill, or are already caring for an ailing parent. They have as much right to professional child care as anyone else. Plus, young parents need a safe child-caring option in case they plan a trip alone or have a late night," says Ipsita Dasgupta, a mother of two who is in the process of setting up her own 24-hour daycare in Gurgaon.

shobita.dhar@timesgroup. com

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