Childcare For Shift Workers Is Pretty Nonexistent. So I Quit To Offer It

Single mum Kayleigh Ashford struggled to find childcare as a healthcare worker. Now she looks after other key workers' kids.
Kayleigh with her two children.
Kayleigh Ashford
Kayleigh with her two children.

In My Story, readers share their unique, life-changing experiences. This week we hear from Kayleigh Ashford, 31, who’s based in Bristol.

My passion lies in caring for people. Over the past 12 years I have worked in early years right through to later life – and that’s in the private early years sector, adult care, community care, NHS and the prison service.

Within adult care, I was a senior nursing assistant in a nursing home. It’s 12-hour shifts: nights, days, weekends. Christmas doesn’t really exist, it’s just another working day. I live on my own with my two children: Harry, who will be nine in April, and Darcie who has just turned four. Until my son was five, I worked every Christmas Day. But I didn’t mind because I enjoyed the job. Their dad and I are separated, so I knew they’d get a Christmas with him, then a second one with me.

When I fell pregnant with Darcie, I was working in the NHS, within the prison service. Coming back from maternity leave, they wanted me back full-time – but as a shift worker with two children, it just wasn’t viable. I would’ve ended up paying more in childcare fees than I was earning.

So I went into district nursing, but again finding childcare was difficult. The shifts are either a very early start (we’re talking 7am) or a late finish that meant dropping the children off at at 6am. I wouldn’t be finishing until about 4pm and Harry would finish school at 3.30pm, so that would mean after-school club. A very long day for them, as well as me.

Late shifts would finish at 8pm or 10pm, but most childcare services finish at 6pm. So I went back into community care instead, working 12-hour nights, a couple a week, while the children were with their dad. I’d work a night shift, pick the children up, do the morning school run, drop them off, then go home and sleep, then do the school run again.

It got to a point where I was working 40-50 hours a week. Because demand is so high for care workers – and I was trying to work when the children were with their dad – I was doing split shifts on the weekends, too, 7am until 2pm, then 4pm until 10pm in the same day, on both weekend days.

If I hadn’t had support from the children’s dad and his partner, I probably wouldn’t have been able to return to work when I did. Private nurseries and preschools are very expensive – as I’m sure many will agree. I understand it from a professional point of view, but as a parent, with the cost of living and everything, for some people it wouldn’t be worth going back to work at all.

It became overwhelming. One night I just sat back and thought: I’ve got to make a change somewhere. When I got home from work, I was feeling stressed because I was tired and I had to do the house, be mum, and you just want your chill time, which was very nonexistent. My life was the children and work.

I thought: what can I do that I enjoy, I’m passionate about, where I can put my qualifications to good use, be around more for my children, and have more of a flexible work-life balance? That’s where my experience as a shift worker has shaped my desire to support other shift workers with childcare.

I’d looked into childminding after having my son in 2015 but the process of getting registered and all the paperwork – tax returns, invoicing – plus all the equipment and inspections put me off as a mum returning to work from maternity leave. So I put it to the back of my mind.

A few years later I came back to the idea. I was so over-worked at the time and I just sat back and thought: it has to be now. The children were settled, I had a new house and car, so I googled ‘how to become a childminder’ and thought with all my qualifications, early years experience and two children of my own, this was a good time to give it a go.

“I was working a lot, trying to be mum, trying to manage the house – it became overwhelming.”

I came across a childminding agency called Tiney and liked the look of it. They’ve got an app for you and parents to use, they offer training and support. It was the right thing for me. I signed up for registration in May 2022 and opened my doors in September.

I’ve now got eight children on my register, aged 16 months to two years old, and six of those are from NHS and care-worker families. Currently, my earliest drop off is 7.30am and latest pick up is 6pm. But some families have flexible contracts, as their shifts can change on a weekly basis.

I’m close to all the hospitals in Bristol, so demand for childcare is very high and I have six more families on a waiting list. I’m not regimented with my hours. I offer additional early starts and late finishes on an individual basis. I don’t advertise that I offer nights, but I do have families who ask. I potentially have a nurse who is also a single parent to two children and who will be returning to work from maternity leave and would like me to have them two nights a week.

Childcare for nights pretty much doesn’t exist. And as a parent who’s worked nights for many years, I know how difficult that is. With a night shift, the parent would drop their child off about 7pm, then they’d have some time with me.

I always offer a home-from-home routine where I try to replicate their routine. Children I childmind overnight would have their own room to sleep in with travel cots, or beds, whatever they do at home. They would have settling in periods, like children that do daytime sessions, to get to know me. I would class it as a ‘sleepover,’ making it fun and exciting, so they would look forward to coming. Then it’s time to get up, get ready and mum would pick them up and do the school run, and go to bed.

The beauty of the job is because I’m working from home, I can still visit my children’s school and attend sports days and plays because my childminding children can come with me and they really enjoy it. They’re almost like family.

I find it very rewarding supporting shift workers. I had two children start with me – twins – and their mum was finding it very difficult for anybody to take on twins as it takes up two spaces. She was so appreciative and we have a very good relationship. Being able to offer working parents that sense of relief is key.

It can be stressful trying to find childcare when you’re on a timeframe to return to work. Childminders in the area offer their set days, set times, whereas I am very much open to anything. One of the mums said: “I nearly cried with relief” when she found me. It spurs me on knowing I’m doing shift workers a great deal – because as a shift worker and as a parent, I know how it is.

Kayleigh was interviewed by Natasha Hinde and her answers were edited for length and clarity. To take part in HuffPost UK’s My Story series, email