Aqbal Kowaie, an overnight daycare employee, plays with 2-year-old Jaren Brown, left, and 10-month-old Avalon Brown, right, on Thursday, August 1, 2019, in Renton.
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Aqbal Kowaie, an overnight daycare employee, plays with 2-year-old Jaren Brown, left, and 10-month-old Avalon Brown, right, on Thursday, August 1, 2019, in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

If you're a mom on the night shift, where do your kids sleep?

It’s dinner time, and Tiffany Montgomery will head to work soon. But first, she drops her five kids off at child care, where they’ll spend the night.

When KUOW met her, Montgomery worked the night shift at a liquor distribution warehouse, driving forklifts and checking stock. She has since changed jobs but still works overnight, as does her husband.

Montgomery said finding overnight care for all five of their children was no easy feat. "I had to go through two counties,” she said.

Montgomery said it took her months to find a place that would take her children late in the day.

Overnight daycare was an adjustment for the kids at first, she said. Her youngest is 1 year old and her oldest is 9 years old. Most of her children hadn’t been to daycare, let alone overnight.

[Read more stories from KUOW’s Night Shift.]

"Avalon, obviously, this is his first year of life, so he's probably like, what's going on?” Montgomery said. “He was nursing. But he's transitioned to bottles pretty well."

Just 5 percent of child care providers in Washington state have overnight hours, according to a report from Child Care Aware of Washington, a nonprofit that helps match families with care providers in their area.

Tiffany Montgomery's 2-year-old son Jaren Brown cries as she drops him off at an overnight daycare facility before working her night shift, on Thursday, August 1, 2019, in Renton.
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Tiffany Montgomery's 2-year-old son Jaren Brown cries as she drops him off at an overnight daycare facility before working her night shift, on Thursday, August 1, 2019, in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

And, according to their data, the number of overnight providers in King County has dropped by almost half in recent years, down to 115 in 2018.

It was a big part of why the family recently moved to King County.

LG child care in Renton is a licensed operation run out of a private home, owned by Janice Bates. Outside there’s a big yard with toys and an undercover area for outside play when it’s too hot or rainy.

Inside, there are colorful cubbies, mats covered in numbers and letters, and dozens of tubs with toys.

When they arrive, Montgomery’s kids come inside to say hello and then move to the yard, where they race and listen to music. Montgomery said she’s encouraged them to think of this as their second home and family. They’ve grown to like it, she said.

Aqbal Kowaie, an overnight daycare employee, plays with 2-year-old Jaren Brown, left, and 10-month-old Avalon Brown, right, on Thursday, August 1, 2019, in Renton.
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Aqbal Kowaie, an overnight daycare employee, plays with 2-year-old Jaren Brown, left, and 10-month-old Avalon Brown, right, on Thursday, August 1, 2019, in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Studies show that irregular work shifts can have downsides for kids, from health problems to behavior issues. But Montgomery said she sees a big upside.

"I'm able to spend the daytime with them,” she said. “It's really fulfilling to be there for them while they're awake and then while they're asleep, they won't even notice I'm gone for the most part."

Numbers from Child Care Aware of Washington indicate that the demand for overnight care and the capacity for such care are about on par across the state. But that doesn’t mean open spots are always located where they’re needed.

"Even though there aren't thousands upon thousands of children who need this care, there are some,” said Marcia Jacobs, who works at the nonprofit.

“For those families, it's a critical need. And the providers that do this really help keep these families afloat. It's very important work."

Janice Bates, the owner of LG child care where Montgomery’s kids go, said she began offering around-the-clock child care after parents called her up, asking if she could open at 4 a.m. or take their kids overnight.

“I started to go, hmmm, let me see, let's try this," Bates said.

Montgomery's kids are there overnight. Another two children are picked up at 1 a.m. And the first morning drop off is at 4 a.m.

Bates said night shift parents often want to move to days, but that can get tricky for her. When a parent lands a 9-to-5 job, she doesn’t always have spots during those hours for kids who used to come overnight.

For now, the night shift is working for Montgomery and her family — working nights pays more, and she said it would be tough to find daycare slots for all her kids if she switched to working days, partly because of the broad age range.

By about 7 p.m., with their mom off to work, Montgomery's kids sit down for a snack. They'll soon bunk down for the night, sleeping together in the same room.

They know mom will be back in the morning, in time to take them to school.

Tiffany Montgomery walks to the overnight daycare facility to drop off two of her sons, 10-month-old Avalon Brown, left, and 5-year-old Curtis Brown, right, before working the night shift on Thursday, August 1, 2019, in Renton.
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Tiffany Montgomery walks to the overnight daycare facility to drop off two of her sons, 10-month-old Avalon Brown, left, and 5-year-old Curtis Brown, right, before working the night shift on Thursday, August 1, 2019, in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer