FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Soldiers and family members on Fort Rucker often work odd hours, ranging from the middle of the night to 24-hour shifts, but the installation wants to make sure its families are taken care of when it comes to child care.

That's where the Mini Child Development Center comes in, able to provide 24-hour child care for mission-essential patrons, said Monteka Freeman, Mini CDC assistant director.

Unlike the Fort Rucker Child Development Center, the Mini CDC does not have set hours, but rather goes by the schedules of their patrons and the hours they require care for their children, said Freeman.

"We're here for the patrons who work irregular hours," she said. "They may do overnight shift work or have 12- to 13-hour shifts -- we're here for the patrons whose schedules don't coincide with the main CDC.

"This is for patrons like military police officers, firefighters, MedEvac pilots or those who work at AFS -- they all work irregular hours," said the assistant director. "They may work weekends, or before 5:30 a.m. or after 6 p.m.," during all of which the main CDC is not open.

The facility's hours are based on the parent's work schedules, so the center is not open at all times.

"There are a lot of nights we are closed at 8 o'clock, and then there are times that we're giving 24-hour care because we have a parent who is either pulling duty or working on their night shift. It just depends on what their work schedule is -- that's how we schedule our hours of operation," she said.

When taking care of a child for a 24-hour period, parents don't have to worry since employees of the Mini CDC will take shifts to ensure the children are receiving the full level of care they deserve.

Caregivers will go to shift hours at that point, with a manager and caregiver on during each shift, said Freeman.

"We're able to try to keep the hours to an eight-hour shift, and we're fully staffed at all hours when we have children and there is no going to sleep for the staff -- even if the child is sleeping," said the assistant director. "When the child gets up the next morning, we give the child breakfast and prepare the child for the day until the parents are ready to pick them up."

Freeman said one main thing people need to understand about the Mini CDC is that it's not the type of facility where patrons can drop their children off at a moment's notice, but rather must be scheduled ahead of time.

"I conduct an orientation with all potential new patrons. They must turn in their work schedules weekly and their work schedules are due a week in advance based on when they are requesting the care," she said. "They also have to qualify based on where they work and they also must be working the irregular hours we mentioned."

Hourly care is offered only during operational hours and children must be picked up before those operational hours end, which are handled on a case-by-case basis, she added.

While children are being cared for at the Mini CDC, Freeman said parents don't have to worry since the facility is fully equipped to provide the full level of care that the main CDC provides. The facility cares for children ages 6 weeks to 11 years old and is equipped with two, eight-bed rooms with showers; a kitchen where children are served breakfast, lunch or dinner; and play rooms for the children.

"We are still (child and youth services) employees and we go through the same training, have the same operations manual and everything is the same," said the assistant director. "The only thing that is different is who we serve and the hours we serve."

The facility staff uses the same teaching strategies as the main CDC, and there are activities for children throughout the day, including circle time with children in the mornings, playtime outside and art time, she said. The children also have free time where they can play board games or video games.

Although the Mini CDC serves a different purpose, Freeman said she wants people on the installation to know that it is still there to serve the community, but that is also a mission-essential facility.

"We are here to serve the patrons any way that we can," she said. "We are not a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week facility as we originally intended, but that's where we can fill in. If we need to be here for 24 hours, we're here for 24 hours, and if we're needed here on weekends, we'll be here."

For more information, call 255-9339 or 255-3066.