A children's advocate I know gets apoplectic every time the subject of a national childcare program is raised. Not just because there isn't one. But because the debate is conducted as if it's only an issue for parents with kids under 6. As if once they hit grade 1, the whole dilemma disappears - poof! - like the trail of soapy bubbles from a toddler's wand.
Any parent knows this couldn't be further from the truth. While some moms and dads figure out a way to take time off, telecommute or work reduced hours during their children's early years, 80 per cent of Canadian moms work full-time once their kids are in school. And most do not have the luxury of arriving home in time to meet their children after the bell rings.
After-school care - whether through recreation programs or school-based childcare programs - can be expensive, hard to find and, for the older kids who figure they've outgrown it, a tough sell. No wonder the window between 3 and 6 p.m. is one of the most stressful for families. But as today's Star story notes, it's also the perfect time to engage school-age kids in healthy activities and relationships.
As that advocate notes, it would take considerably less money to address this enormous need than a program for the under-6 crowd. And it would probably help a lot more families too. With an early years strategy in stall mode, why not start here?
Discussion on the middle years and after-school care is still fairly new in Canada, but here are some useful websites to find out more and to exchange strategies and information:
The National Alliance for Children and Youth is hosting a conference on the middle years this week. Or read the discussion paper Issues Affecting the Well-Being of Canadian Children in the Middle Years - 6 to 12.
Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services provides a range of services including after-school care and has been pioneering the development of resiliency-based programming in Toronto. Research funded by the United Way of Greater Toronto and in partnership with Resiliency Canada, Toronto Public Health and Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services is summarized in a report on their website.
Resiliency Canada and the International Resilence Project are leading the way with research on strategies and programs built on relationships children's strengths and aimed at developing skills that will help them cope with adversity and risk in their teen years.
Research highlights from UBC professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl's survey of 9 to 12-year-olds - what they do in out-of-school hours, and how they feel about themselves, their family and community - is available on the United Way of the Lower Mainland site.
Schonert-Reichl, who notes the U.S. is way ahead of Canada on the issue of after-school care, points to the wealth of research on the websites of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and the Afterschool Alliance.
A framework to promote healthy development of kids ages 6 to 12 called Middle Childhood Matters was developed by the Child and Youth Health Network for Eastern Ontario.
To find after-school care providers, try the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, YMCA Canada (for both, go to your region and click on child care), or check out the PLASP Child Care Services, which offers school-based care throughout Peel.
There are many smaller organizations providing care and engaging youth in their communities such as Bridging the Gap, which is based in Belleville, Ont. As someone from that region pointed out in an email, "useful sharing" among organizations working with kids in the middle years would benefit everyone.
Please suggest additional links to help facilitate sharing by posting them in the Comments below.