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The Need for Universal After-School Care

The conversation about the childcare crisis often revolves around families with children under five, but parents and guardians with school-aged children face many of the same barriers to finding care, especially in the afternoons, when school ends and parents are still at work. This article, by Vox senior policy writer Rachel Cohen, looks deeply at the causes and effects of inadequate access to after-school care.

According to Cohen, while about 8 million children are currently enrolled in after-school programs, nearly 25 million more children would be enrolled if a program were available to them. Cost is the number one barrier that parents face when attempting to enroll their child in afterschool, but there is also a lack of sufficient workforce, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, to create enough available slots for all the children in need of care. The reasons why are grim: Afterschool teachers are usually asked to work for low-pay hourly wages, on a part-time, seasonal basis, with no benefits. They can usually make significantly more money and earn benefits working for chain employers like Target, Starbucks, and Walmart.

Cohen looks to examples set by California—“the only state in the nation that has taken it upon itself to invest robustly in after-school care”—and discusses how it’s used substantial public funding to address the financial concerns of both parents and after-school teachers. Cohen calls on the rest of the nation to show the kind of investment California has and work towards “universal after school care.”

Take a look:

America’s after-school afterthought

The after-school registration date — May 9, 2022 — was long marked on Liz Baltaro’s calendar. A family medicine doctor in Durham, North Carolina, she felt acute pressure to land spots for her twin boys, then 7 years old, in their school district’s after-school program. Baltaro and her husband Ben have no parents or other relatives living nearby and no option to work remotely. Elementary school ends in the early afternoon, but she can’t leave her job until after 5 pm.

That day, Baltaro woke up before sunrise and started refreshing her phone. When applications finally opened roughly three hours later, she signed up, in between seeing patients. Reading the confirmation email at 9:17 am, she breathed a sigh of relief.

More than two months later, with the first day of school rapidly approaching, Baltaro received a strange, vague email, listing strategies Durham Public Schools was taking to “recruit and hire staff” and “accommodate waitlisted students.” She called the district and learned her kids — along with 720 other children — had been waitlisted. Amid a headline-making national labor shortage, the district needed to hire over 60 new employees to cover the demand.

“Our choices are either after-care or my husband forfeits his job, which really isn’t tenable for us,” Baltaro said.

Image via Vox


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