COLLEGE STATION — Although the number of after-school care programs in Texas is increasing, there is still a need for programs designed specifically for young adolescents, according to a family life specialist.
“We have seen a significant increase in the growth of after-school programs, but there is still a need, particularly when you look at pre-adolescents in fifth through seventh grades,” said Dr. Sarah Anderson, program leader for family development and resource management with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
“I still have concern about that young adolescent being alone, because we know from research that a lot can happen in those three hours,” she said. “Children this age need a program where they are not told everything to do. They do not like to stay at the after- school programs, because they view them as being for little kids.”
The most recent census data from 1991 reported that more than 2 million children, ages 5-13, care for themselves alone at home some time of the day, while child-care experts believe that number may be three or four times higher. Other national estimates put the number at 15 million. State child-care experts believe more than a million latchkey children live in Texas.
But accurate figures are hard to obtain. “That’s because parents are reluctant to admit that their children spend time at home alone,” Anderson said. “They fear being seen as unfit parents. So, you get invalid statistics on latchkey children in the state.”
After-school care programs have grown since 1990, said Bill Carver of the Texas Department of Human Services’ licensing division. But there is no way of knowing how many such programs are available because child care centers are not required to indicate if they offer these services.
The most common type of after-school care program is located on school grounds, he said.
After-school programs include those operated by:
* Schools — offer programs and various activities after school hours. These sometimes involve a collaborative effort with groups such as parks and recreation agencies.
* Child day care — offers services for school-aged children and will send vehicles to pick them up after school.
* Day home providers — keep young children in the home during the day and older children after school.
* After-school home provider — only keeps older kids in their homes after school.
* Community Services — churches, civic groups and agencies such as the YMCA have programs for children after school.
Five years ago, Anderson assisted in the development of Project Home Safe, a joint effort between the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the America Association of Family and Consumer Sciences to help parents of latchkey children find alternative solutions to self care.
The national outreach project trains volunteers to work with coalitions of local leaders to assess needs, identify available resources and develop a plan of action at the local level to solve community problems of children in self care.
The project has helped in the establishment of many after-school programs throughout Texas, Anderson said. Educational manuals also help parents choose the appropriate after- school care program, tell how to set up a program and provide enough lesson plans for the entire year.
All kids are alone at some time even when a parent is out mowing the grass, Anderson said. These lessons give children basic safety skills such as how to answer the phone, what to do if there’s a fire, what kitchen objects to avoid and others important tips. Also, they educate youth on nutritious snacks.
“Children being home alone is a problem that will never go away,” she said. “In addition, programs are not yet meeting low-income parents’ needs. For the working poor, it’s hard.”
Some parents have after-school jobs, while others just cannot afford the cost, she added. Costs can range from $65 to $125, depending on the care service and whether it is for nonprofit.
“Today, we are more aware of child care and dependant care but still have a way to go,” Anderson said. “I feel good about the program development and those available. We have addressed the problem, but I would not want to imply that the problem has been solved.”