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Summer day care: a growing concern

By Deborah ChurchmanSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / June 25, 1984

It's the middle of a summer weekday - do you know where your children are? For working parents with tiny tots, the answer is probably the same as on a winter's day: at the sitter's or the day-care center. But for those with school-age children the typical answer in summer, until recently, has been rather bleak: at home, alone.

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''We're at the very beginning of the forming of a wave of custodial care,'' says Adah Strobell, associate professor of recreation at the University of Maryland. Recreation centers, YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers, Girls and Boys Clubs, and other areas where children traditionally ''dropped in'' during summer hours are finding kids waiting at the doorstep for them to open, directors say - and are changing their hours to accommodate those kids.

''The staff gets here at 8:30,'' says Barbara Fierro, executive director of the Girl's Club of Rapid City, S.D., ''and kids would be out there, rapping on the window and asking to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. We had to do something.''

As recreation directors are becoming more aware of the need for full-day care for the school-age child, so, too, are parents. ''People are becoming more aware of the need to provide safe care,'' says Ms. Fierro, ''with all the talk now about kidnapped children and child abuse.'' Her Girl's Club now offers custodial care during extended hours to 75 children each summer on a fee basis. ''Still, in a city with 6,000 school-age children, at least half of whom have working parents, you can see we're a long way from meeting the need.''

In Miami, a highly successful YMCA program meets the needs of over 1,000 such children. Edward Ellis, president of Miami's ''Y,'' says he thinks the program is soaking up the bulk of the latchkey kids in the area by making the program very accessible. ''The school system runs an excellent summer school program, and we moved our program right into several of these schools, so the kids don't have to go anywhere,'' he says.

Other centers are located in key areas of the city, on the commuting routes of many working parents.

Cost is one factor that often makes such programs inaccessible to these children. The Miami ''Y'' gathers scholarships from the United Way program and others to reduce their $15 per week price tag - already on the low end of the scale - to $7.50 in the poorer areas.

They also pay special attention to the needs of different age groups, like the sixth-graders scheduled to go on to junior high next year. Groups of these children from the different ''feeder schools'' are formed into clubs by the YMCA and spend a few days during the summer swimming, hiking, and having fun together. ''So when they go to school in the fall, they'll walk in with a friend from another school,'' says Mr. Ellis.

Directors of successful summer programs often comment that such programs need to support the family - not just the child. The Miami ''Y'' asks for feedback from parents regularly and puts parents and children on planning committees. Other programs - notably military base recreation centers - hold monthly barbecue talent shows or other family-oriented evening meetings so parents can get to know one another.