School Age Child Care
Currently across the United States and Canada, school-age child care is a patchwork of programs run by community groups, parents, school boards, associations, and recreation programs. Quality is as varied as the number of programs. Availability is also a problem resulting in a grave shortage of care options for children aged 5-12 or simply falling short of meeting the needs of children and their parents.
There are an estimated 2 million children in the U.S. who look after themselves both before and after school. "Surveys in some communities find that as many as 25% of all six to 12 year olds are on their own for some part of the day. The percentages are much higher for children over the age of nine or ten." Says the Child Care Action Campaign, in their Information Guide 15, School-Age Child Care.
Canadian children fair no better. Research conducted by the Policy Research Centre on Children, Youth and Families on school-age child care (1993), found that Canada's lack of an integrated, planned system for this type of child care was creating a hardship on parents and children.
School-Age Child Care Differences
School-age child care differs in many respects from that of pre-school care, though the need for stimulating activities and opportunities for quiet times, contact with attentive and caring adults, as well as a need to feel safe and to socialize with peers exist for this group as well. In their Vision Statement for Healthy School-age Children: An Agenda for Healthy Communities, the Policy Research Centre notes that: "During their school-age years, CHILDREN need opportunities to:
* Develop significant friendships
* Acquire new skills and interests
* Express creativity and imagination
* Be increasingly independent and responsible
* Be fit, well nourished, safe and healthy
* Explore both the natural world and the community in which they live."
A Good Program
A good school-age program is designed to meet the developmental needs of older children. In addition to the basics of nutritional snacks and a caring environment, "There should be enough equipment, toys and games for outdoor and indoor activities for all the children. There should be access to community resources such as ice-skating, swimming, libraries, youth organizations and centres." Says the CCAC.
Such programs require trained staff capable of working with large groups of independent-minded children as well as with the individual child. Here, like the shortage of programs themselves, recruiting and retaining qualified staff is an ongoing concern. While the majority of supervisors have an ECE diploma, a substantial number of caregivers possess little child care training specific to the needs of school-aged children.
Locating accessible, affordable, safe and caring after-school care programs for children is not always easy. To find out more, CCAC recommends talking with other parents about their arrangements for older children; contacting a local Child Care Resource and Referral and/or child care licensing agencies; civic organizations (i.e. Boys and Girls Clubs, women's organizations, National Counsel of Jewish Women) and checking with the teacher and principal at your child's school for programs in their area.