Visiting and Interviewing School-Age Child Care Providers (page 2)
Child care for school-aged children is referred to in many different ways: as after school care, before and after school care, care for latchkey kids, after school clubs or sports programs, and summer camps. We have chosen to call these programs “school-age child care,” known in the child care profession as SACC. Although our emphasis will be on SACC programs for children in kindergarten through third grade (ages five through eight), we will also consider the needs of older children. After giving general information about legal requirements, staff qualifications, and parent involvement, we provide some ideas and guidelines tailored more specifically to school-aged child care settings.
Most SACC programs located in or run by child care centers and family care homes are regulated by the state in which they are located. The minimal requirements established by the state are designed only to ensure the safety of the children. They specify adult-to-child ratios and group sizes, which are generally 1:10 for four- to ten-year-old children, with a maximum group size of twenty, and 1:15 for ten- to fourteenyear- old children, with a maximum group size of thirty.
Regulations also ensure safety against fire and promote health standards, the appropriate education and training of staff and director, and adequate space. For instance, most states require thirty-five square feet of space per child and one toilet and washbasin per twenty children.
Independent school-age child care programs and residential and summer camps, if they are regulated at all, are often regulated by different organizations or agencies from those that regulate child care centers and family child care programs. Check with your local child care resource and referral agency to learn whether the program you are considering is required to be licensed. If it is, ask the program director to show you the license and ascertain that it is up to date. Remember that a license tells you only that the organization met the minimum requirements on the books at the time it was issued. You must check out the program yourself to make sure not only that it exceeds minimum requirements but also that it addresses the particular personality, interests, and needs of your child.
Staff Qualifications and Practices
Qualifications for staff or SACC programs and camps vary widely. In states where programs are licensed, staff must usually be at least eighteen years old or high school graduates. Some states check applicants through the state register of child abuse and maltreatment and require a minimum of twelve hours of in-service training. The licensing rules frequently state that smaller programs—those with fewer than forty-five children—must have at least one person with an associate degree in a child-related area or two years of college with a minimum of twelve credits in child-related courses or two years of experience working directly with children. Programs with more than forty-five children must have a lead person with previous administrative experience. To head a group of twenty to thirty children, a SACC teacher needs only a high school degree and one year of experience or has to be older than eighteen and have a year of experience in a child care– related area. An assistant teacher generally has to be only sixteen years old, have some experience, and be in good health.
These minimal requirements are not enough to ensure highquality care for your child. It is important that adults working with school-age children have both experience and education or training related to this age group. Training in educational methods, recreation, psychology, and social work is helpful. Staff should be familiar with the developmental stages of five- to twelve-year-olds, have good skills at conflict resolution, and be able to apply problem-solving techniques appropriate to this age group. They should be relaxed with school-age children and enjoy interacting with and listening to them. They must be comfortable talking about hurt feel2 ings and broken friendships and be able to guide children through the difficult task of developing lasting relationships with peers and adults. Staff should involve the children in the planning and operation of a program—especially for nineto twelve-year-olds—but also allow them time just to hang out without having to be engaged in meaningful activities every minute of the day. The program should include a planned approach to staffing, and each new staff member should be given written policies describing work expectations. Ask to see these guidelines for they can tell you a good deal about how the program is organized.
The organization of the environment contributes greatly to how the children function in a program. Learning centers work well for most ages. Field trips and guests should also be on the agenda. Outdoor space should reflect the activity levels of older children. Ideally, it should include large open areas for soccer, baseball, and other games, plus areas for more intimate play, such as building a tree house, and undeveloped land for exploration and discovery. The nature of an environment communicates the appropriate behavior to children— open spaces tempt them to run, intimate spaces inspire quiet play, a stage might stimulate production of a play, and unusual and interesting materials encourage exploration. Staff should have a variety of developmentally appropriate activities planned for the students when they arrive from school each day, balancing active and restful projects.
Many group SACC programs borrow space in a cafeteria or gym. A major challenge for staff is how to make this space attractive and interesting before the children arrive. The better the relationship between the site and the SACC program, the easier it is for staff to rearrange the space to their own liking.
Like all child care arrangements, SACC programs and summer camps exhibit varying attitudes toward parent involvement. Some programs welcome parents, while others may be less enthusiastic about their interest or even discourage it. Your ability to have regular daily contact with the staff of the program or camp might depend on the nature of the transportation to and from the setting you choose for your child. If she or he goes to the program directly from school and returns home in a carpool that you drive only every third day, face-to-face opportunities for discussion with the staff will be rare.
Despite these potential obstacles, it is important to think of this care arrangement as an ongoing partnership. Every adult with whom your child comes into regular contact as part of the program should have been introduced to you through information sent home. Because you are the expert on the characteristics, interests, and needs of your child, program staff should provide you with ways to share this vital information with them. At the start of the program, you should receive a handbook outlining the ways you can help your child succeed and opportunities for you to become involved. Information about the program’s activities may reach you through a newsletter or be posted on a bulletin board you can read when you pick up your child at the end of the day.
There should also be opportunities for conferences and parent education workshops. Most programs can benefit from periodic work parties made up of parents, children, and staff. Perhaps you can provide leadership in organizing communitybuilding events if staff are not already doing so. If you have a specific interest or talent that might appeal to the children in the program, try to come in to share this resource with them and their caregivers.
Reprinted with the permission of Cornell University. © 2008 Cornell University
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