Child Care Assistance Policies Should Consider Children's Summer Care Needs

Aug 04, 2011

By Stephanie Schmit

The summer can easily become a time of crisis for working parents--summertime programs are intermittent, school is out for multiple months, and finding quality child care for a short time can be difficult.

A report from the Urban Institute looked at summer child care arrangements for school-aged children and found that more than one in 10 children between ages 6 and12 spend time in self care (alone or with a sibling younger than 13) during the summer. These children typically spend more than 10 hours alone per day in the summer compared to less than five during the school year. According to researchers, the more hours children spend in self care or in the care of a young sibling, the more at-risk they are for dangerous behaviors and activities. Further, emerging research suggests that the summer "knowledge loss," that is common among school-aged children can be mediated with quality programs during summer months.

For low-income families, summer presents additional challenges because subsidies are often not flexible enough to transition school-aged children from part-time or no care arrangement during the school year to full-time care during the summer. Without help paying for summer care, low-income parents have to decide whether they can afford additional child care costs or whether to leave school-aged children alone or with an older sibling, relative or neighbor. Without stable and safe care for their school-aged children during the summer, low-income parents may miss work, or be unable to work the hours necessary to provide adequate income from their family.

Some state child care assistance programs have been designed to alleviate the pressure on families during the summer. According to a report from NCCIC, some states provide the option for families receiving part-time care subsidies during the school year to transition automatically to full-time summer care. Other states allow families with alternate summer arrangements to temporarily suspend their subsidy during the summer, which then allows another family that may only need a subsidy in the summer to use the services. Additionally, some states allow families using subsidies to have a back-up care provider when the primary caregiver is unable to meet their needs. This is especially important in the summer months when regular caregivers take vacations or are unable to provide full-time care.

States can help to make the transition for families from after-school care to summer time care flawless by understanding that child care needs fluctuate throughout the year and policies should do the same to meet the needs of these families.

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