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Child care ultimately is parents’ responsibility: Editorial

Posted 9/12/18

The Middletown Area School District isn’t going to solve the issue of a scarcity of before- and after-school child care.

It’s not really its role to do so, although it is a benefit …

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Child care ultimately is parents’ responsibility: Editorial

Posted

The Middletown Area School District isn’t going to solve the issue of a scarcity of before- and after-school child care.

It’s not really its role to do so, although it is a benefit when districts at least try to make an effort to help.

Decades after women entered the workforce and years after employees were given the ability to work from home, and to work flexible hours, issues remain.

If you don’t have family nearby to help out, or a baby-sitter you can really trust, what can you do? If both parents work, what’s best for the children? What happens in one-parent households?

The challenges were brought into focus recently at a Middletown Area School Board meeting, when Danielle Prokopchak discussed how she and her husband, Marc, could not find before- and after-school care that could accommodate their work schedules. They enrolled their son in kindergarten in the district but later pulled him out to attend private school. It wasn’t what they wanted to do.

“It’s a financial burden for our family, but more importantly, it’s unfair for him. He was looking forward to that. It’s a new chapter for our family, but unfortunately, he doesn’t get to experience that,” Danielle told the school board.

Danielle asked the district to consider partnering with day cares that can accommodate more students.

Board member Melvin Fager said he went through a similar situation, and his wife chose to work later.

“My opinion, we’re offering a lot more than other school districts. When we were going through it, someone said to me, ‘We’re here to educate, not to babysit,’” Fager said.

Many comments on the Press & Journal Facebook page reflected a similar mind-set, summed up as: You chose to have children, so it’s your responsibility to figure out how to care for them.

Others were more sympathetic to the plight of the Prokopchaks, because they faced a similar situation but had trouble making it work.

A story on today’s front page outlines how the school board Sept. 4 approved an agreement to lease space at Reid Elementary School for a before- and after-school child care program run by Growing Adventures Child Care. Growing Adventures would be the second day care provider leasing space in a district school to offer day care. Ebenezer Christian Child Care under an existing contract leases the cafeteria at Kunkel Elementary School.

School districts don’t have to provide before- and after-school care for students. We applaud the board’s effort to be responsive to the concerns raised by Prokopchak. However, it won’t solve the issue, because it’s unsolvable.

There will always be concerns about the costs of such care, its availability, and even the hours that such care is provided. What if two parents or the mom or dad in a single-parent household work overnight or staggered shifts?

In the old days, of course, things were different. The term “latchkey kids” might seem outdated. Many young parents might not even be familiar with that term. But it was popular several decades ago to refer to children who cared for themselves before and after school while their parents were at work.

It might surprise you to find out that Pennsylvania does not have a minimum age at which children can be left alone. “However, if a parent decides to leave a child home alone, that child is still the parent’s responsibility. So that means if anything happens to the child, the parents can be charged with neglect,” according to the website pafamilylawyers.com.

How needed is after-school care? A 2014 Afterschool Alliance report called “America After 3 PM” found that one in five school-age children is left “alone and unsupervised” after classes end, and “for every child in an after-school program, approximately two more children would be enrolled if a program were available to them.”

We hope the action taken by the school board to lease more space at Reid will be at least some help to those parents who need it. But the school board also can’t be responsible for the before- and after-school care of every child. That’s the duty of parents.