by Julia Alhenawi
When summertime rolls around every year, all parents know that means one thing: no more school, meaning their children stay home all day for the rest of the summer, dropping the usual routine they use everyday during the school year. It is a strange adjustment for both parents and their children, as parents wonder what to do with their kids and children wonder how to spend their days with no school and homework. It can be especially challenging for parents of infants and toddlers who work throughout the summer, as they can’t be home to take care of their children all day. For the parents we work with whose daycare and Universal Pre-K programs have ended for the school year, they have to turn to summer camps, private childcare, and even the support of family and friends to assist them as they juggle summer hours with their children and their work. So what are the options for parents when the school year comes to an end and how realistic is it for those in the NPF program?
The first thing that comes to mind is hiring a summer babysitter. Going for that option is easier said than done for multiple reasons, and the two biggest ones involve finding the right babysitter for the job and paying them all summer as well. The financial aspect of this option can be problematic, as many parents can’t afford to work and hire a babysitter for the summer with some sitters costing more than $100/hr plus additional fees per child. Today, sixty percent of people are living paycheck to paycheck and as a result, hiring a babysitter for the summer financially is not an option. So if they can’t hire a babysitter for their children, what else can they do?
The next option parents turn to is sending their children to summer camp, which is an option that can be twice as expensive as hiring someone to watch their kids at home. The president of the ACA (American Camp Association) said so himself, as he stated the average cost of summer camp in the United States is around $178.49 a day and $448.53 a day for sleep-away camp. While summer camp prices and durations vary, the average cost is generally too high for parents in our community. Not to mention, the fact summer camps are not necessarily a good option to look after very young children, as the average child that goes to summer camp is either 8 years or older. So not only are summer camps too expensive for the average person, they are also not a feasible childcare option, particularly for toddlers and babies.
So what are parents supposed to do instead? The truth is, not much, which is a big problem that many families face. It is also an issue that not enough people acknowledge or talk about, and it has become so normalized that no one is willing to do anything about it. The people that truly suffer from this problem are low income families with preschool aged children. Parents who can barely afford childcare for the summer, let alone throughout the school year, struggle the most with taking care of their children when school is out. Some of these parents are single parents that work more than one job just to make ends meet for themselves and their children. What’s even more concerning is that their children are oftentimes in need of constant supervision, which they can’t give because of their jobs. As a result, these parents have to depend on people they trust such as close family members to watch their children, which, for many, is not an option as not everyone lives close to family or friends that do not work full time jobs themselves. Sometimes parents have to leave their kids at home all day with their eldest child to look after their younger siblings, or for their one child to look after themselves. These circumstances happen more often than people would think, especially in immigrant, low-income households that have no other choice but to do so. Children deserve to be properly cared for during the summertime while their parents are working hard to provide for them. One place to look when trying to find the right option for your family is on the NYC Health website which has a specific page dedicated to low-cost child care and summer camps and an application for grants to apply to help cover the cost of summer care. The page lists licensed child care options for families residing in the city as well as a guide to finding the right camp for your family. This is a good start but can be tricky to navigate and the deadlines to apply can catch parents off guard as many are as early as March. We try our best at Friends to provide parents with the funds they need to give peace of mind over the wellbeing and care of their children while they pursue financial stability, but we can only do so much as one organization. Parents should be able to choose from multiple affordable alternatives that do not require a grant or special application to look after their children. All families deserve to have a good, stress-free summer, where children get to have fun in a safe environment, and their parents don’t have to worry about them while they are away. Donors who support friends are helping to solve this issue and ensuring the summer is a happy time for all and for that we say Thank You!