It’s March, which means summer camp madness is upon us. as The New York Times national education correspondent Dana Goldstein recently tweeted, “When I was a kid, you were lucky enough to go to summer camp all summer. when did that change and in today’s civic education you’re supposed to switch camps every 2 weeks and signing up is a part time job.”
The answer to Goldstein’s question is that a changing economic landscape collided with the dominant model of today intensive education. The implications are significant: Summer care, pre-school and after-school care are major pain points for parents, and the childcare conversation should be extended to school-age children.
The history here is fascinating. as an article remarks: “It wasn’t always like this. The summer camps actually began with the aim of giving low-income city children access to nature and fresh air and to protect them from school problems. But over the years, they have become yet another means by which American society reinforces the cultural boundaries between the children of the wealthy and everyone else.”
Full-time working parents face a Hunger Games landscape of limited, expensive slots.”
The myriad of low-cost, non-profit summer camps began to decline in the 1980s. increase in fixed costs how staffing and insurance incurring high capital costs of maintaining aging facilities. Then specialized camps emerged, catering to wealthy parents who wanted to give their kids a head start on college applications with activities like horseback riding or coding. This created more expectations, more competition and also deprived families of full fees. While there are still some great community options (my daughter attended a half-day art camp in Richmond last summer that cost $60 for two weeks, lunch included), many of them are half-day or short-lived. In general, full-time parents are faced with a Hunger Games landscape of limited, expensive slots.
High costs, low availability
The problem, of course, is that at the same time that affordable camp options have been declining, the number of working moms has soared. In the late ’90s and to date, two-thirds of children have all available parents in the workforce (and as baby boomers age, relying on grandparents isn’t always an option). Unfortunately, the results surrounding summer care were predictable and hit low-income families the hardest.
As 2019 report from the Center for American Progress found: “Parents face obstacles when it comes to securing childcare for their children, with 3 in 4 respondents reporting having at least some difficulty finding childcare during the summer; Cost is a common barrier to securing childcare, with more than half of respondents saying paying for childcare is a significant challenge; In 57% of families surveyed, a lack of childcare means at least one parent is planning a job change that will result in reduced income.”
In 57% of families surveyed, a lack of childcare means at least one parent is planning a job change that will result in reduced income.”
Social responsibility camouflaged as a private market good
The challenges families face around school-age and early childhood care share the same DNA: what should be a shared societal responsibility masquerades as a private market good. Employees of after-school and summer programs, such as child care workers, are paid very low wages, and so are these programs suffers from a severe staff shortage; Three-fourths in a recent survey said they had problems. While I don’t want to go too far when I suggest that school care and early childhood care are the same—they aren’t, as early childhood care is characterized by the sheer number of child care hours per year, much lower child-to-adult ratios, and unique professional training needs – they are certainly cousins if not siblings.
This relationship has been recognized to varying degrees in policy proposals. the original Child Care Act for Working Families, first introduced in 2017, has effectively included all children under the age of 13 living in families with less than 150% of the state median income in its benefits. When the House of Representatives passed its version of the Build Back Better Act, the income threshold was raised, but the benefits are only available to children under the age of six. Instead, 90% of the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG, the current subsidy system) would be shifted to school-age benefits for those under 85% State Median Income (SMI)–an important handful of billions of dollars, but not the same as extending a new childcare entitlement through elementary school.
It is about time that the early childhood and school childcare movement became significantly more comfortable. That could mean making sure more parents have access to the school-age CCDBG funds, and perhaps expanding eligibility for this population to 100% or 150% of the SMI. It could look like a permanent tax credit boost for school-age children and dependent care would be introduced as part of a child care treaty. In fact, it might seem like the age limit for new childcare allowances – and for feeling that parents and children deserve quality care – should be 5 or 13 years of age. I would argue that due to the need for care this does not end in kindergarten, neither should our support for families outside of the school day and year.
Elliot Haspel is an expert on childcare policy and the author of the book Crawling in the Back: America’s Childcare Crisis and How to Fix It.
https://www.fastcompany.com/90733986/how-summer-camp-became-a-nightmare-for-working-parents?partner=feedburner&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=feedburner+fastcompany&utm_content=feedburner How Summer Camp Became a Nightmare for Working Parents