What are you doing this summer? Was the question my kids were continually asked a few weeks ago. They both go to Racine Montessori School so have three full months of summer vacation. Three full months! We manage through the summer, and always have, because myself and my ex-husband have the ability to work from home, but what happens to those kids with parents who can’t work from home?
In 2014, parents reported spending an average of $958 per child on summer expenses. Those who can’t afford camps or summer learning programs lump together care from family members or friends, or are forced to leave children home alone. Did you know 11 percent of 6-12 year olds spend an average of 10 hours a week on their own during the summer months?
Most of us know of the summer slide and the loss of math and reading skills for children over the summer, but few of us are thinking about all the time children are left alone. I think we exist on an old summer model of mom at home making lemonade for the daily stand perched on the front sidewalk, while a neighborhood of children prance through the alley playing kick ball and four square. To be honest, that was my childhood summer experience, but that was in the 1970s.
In summer, the lack of affordable child care and the achievement gap collide for lower income families. The Department of Health and Human Services defines “affordable child care” as taking up no more than 10 percent of a family’s income, but typically, only upper income families fit into that category. Support offered to individual parents, from child care subsidies to the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, can be applied toward appropriate summer programs, but it also falls far short. According to the Center for American Progress, in 2011, 22 states had waiting lists for child care assistance, and just one in seven children who qualify for a direct child care subsidy in their state or community actually receives it. These programs are grants, not entitlements, and when the applications exceed the available funds, many are denied.
WOULD we be better off if we just got rid of summer?
I’m not actually advocating for that. Summer vacation is an American tradition, and year round schooling means spreading the 3 months of vacation time into blocks throughout the year. The same problem exists. What I believe is needed is more support for children and working families.
I honestly wish we had the facility, money, and volunteers needed to run a drop-in center for children during the summer. I envision children using computers, playing games, coloring and playing in a safe encouraging environment that is part of our church. But it is indeed an expensive endeavor, and I am only one person, yet I can dream.