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It's summer: Where's the child care?

Providing child care for kids after school lets out and before summer programs begin is a difficult and expensive proposition for working parents.

By Karen Datko Jun 16, 2011 5:37PM

MP Dunleavey calls it the "camp gap": the period between the end of school and the start of summer camp for school-age kids whose parents work. What are parents supposed to do with their kids during that time?


You can't just plunk them down in day care for a week or two. It doesn't work like that.


In her case, the camp gap is nine work days. "I figured there would be a program or a playgroup that would offer some coverage during those working days," MP, who's facing this particular child care dilemma for the first time, wrote in a post at DailyWorth, where the former MSN Money columnist now resides online.

"Um, no."


MP added, "It's emblematic of an issue that dogs us all: insufficient, overpriced, erratic child care choices for working families."


What affordable possibilities exist? MP asked her readers for their thoughts, and did they deliver. Among their comments:

  • It's a year-round problem -- winter break, spring break, miscellaneous school days off -- and it wreaks havoc on working families. "The lack of good quality child care in this nation is appalling and deeply damages the quality and productivity of this nation's workforce," reader Shera wrote.
  • Employers often aren't accommodating. Kids really don't belong in the workplace -- "It irks me no end when folks bring their noisy kids into work …," wrote Linda, who is single and childless -- and bosses aren't uniformly tolerant of parental scheduling needs.
  • Co-workers aren't always sympathetic, including single, childless (or "child-free," as one reader said) workers who feel they have to cover every time parents take time off for their kids' activities. "Gee, you have to figure out nine whole days with your own spawn," Lisa wrote. "Well, get over it. Maybe you should have thought about, oh, I don't know, having to take care of a kid before having one."
  • Parents might have to switch to lower-paying jobs or work part time. "I had to exchange my salaried situation for hourly in order to meet my daughter's schedule," said Michele.
  • There's profit potential here. "Seems that developing full-day interim child care programs would be a great moneymaker!" Corrie wrote. Post continues after video.

Some possible solutions emerged to handle the camp gap:

  • Take your vacation from work during that time. That takes care of two or three weeks. But there could be another gap after camp ends and before school starts again. 
  • Rotate baby sitters. One reader pays two teens, who alternate days to prevent burnout. Another said, "Our solution is to share a high school baby sitter (actually two sisters who fill in for each other) with two other families."
  • Pay a friend who is a stay-at-home parent. (And don't be cheap about it.)
  • Organize parents and collectively ask the YMCA or some other child-focused organization to set up a summer-long program for kids.
  • Why not have year-round school, with after-care? Isn't this change overdue? In many parts of the country, two incomes are required to cover the basics, including saving for retirement and an emergency fund.

The best all-round advice came from reader "jburne":

Be proactive. Find another parent or two who can take your kids one day and take theirs another. Find a college student to help out or use a fill-in on-call nanny service. Work from home for as much of the time as you can if you're unsure how your kids will take to a new face. Having an activity for a new sitter to do with a friend and their kids helps ease the transition. Always keep a stable of readily available sitters/family members/friends available to make these surprise days less painful. Most importantly: Be prepared. When you're caught off guard it's feels more stressful than when you've anticipated the change and planned for it successfully.

Have you encountered a similar problem? If so, how have you dealt with it?


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