Come Friday, school’s out. For two weeks, instead of memorizing the names of dinosaurs and the life-cycle of a butterfly, students will be set free. But not parents who may be hard-pressed to find child care.
Many who count on a combination of school and childcare to free up their hours for work will be depending on full-day day care or relatives.
There is no set legal age under which kids are required to be supervised by an adult, according to Elsie Rutland, child welfare supervisor with Alameda County Child and Family Services.
Rutland said children between the ages of five and 10 can be left alone for a very short time – with phone numbers and emergency procedures – but not for over an hour.
For children over 10, she said, whether they can be alone for any period of time depends on their maturation, and their ability to reach a responsible adult in the case of an emergency. That leaves parents during winter break seeking supervision for their kids.
The YMCA of Albany sponsors a Kid’s Club for Berkeley and Albany children. But the first week, Dec. 18-22, is already full with a 10-person waiting list.
“Parents ask me, ‘When will I know?’ But I won’t know until somebody cancels,” said Sharon Taylor, membership director of the Albany YMCA.
The YMCA program costs $30 per day, inexpensive considering that baby-sitters are advertising their holiday services for $11 to $15 dollars per hour on Craig’s List, a community Web Site.
But even the YMCA’s nonprofit fee may be too pricey for many working parents. “Child care is very expensive. It’s hard when you’re poor.” said Sheila Burton-Bran, who was picking up her daughter Missy from Rosa Parks elementary school. “There’s very few low-income childcare providers that will do sliding scale. They’re in it for the bucks. It dampens my enthusiasm for leaving my children there.”
The city’s recreation department offers sliding scale child care: “Winter Break Special Fun Camps” held at Frances Albrier, James Kenney, Live Oak, and Willard Club House centers. During traditional school hours, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., recreation coordinators will lead kids in arts and crafts, non-competitive sports, and local mini-trips.
“We throw in some cultural awareness during our programming,” including activities around Hanukkah, Kwaanza, and Christmas, said Theodore Scates, recreation activity coordinator. The city’s recreation department also offers extended hours on each end of the core program, from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The full-day program charges anywhere from $35 to $100 per week.
Other traditional after-school programs are paring down for the holiday season. According to Ginsi Bryant, the Berkeley Young Adult project runs after school homework centers for Berkeley students. During the winter break, however, the program ends in the early afternoon.
Despite the scarce childcare resources, Rutland said that the winter months may be easier for parents than the long summer holiday. “Around the summertime, working two-parent families have problems around child care,” she said. The holiday season may take care of some of the problem by itself.
“I think a lot of people are taking off (work),” she said.
The Early Childhood Development Program is open during the next two weeks, and even it closes for part of the weeks.
“Usually the enrollment decreases during the holidays. I think our parents tend to keep their children home,” said John Santoro, who directs the program. He added that the state-funded program has specific requirements for the school year – parents must be working, going to school, incapacitated or disabled.
“A lot of our parents may be going to school,” said Santoro, so they may also have the holiday off.
Rutland also said that the holidays bring out help from all quarters. “There are often a lot of holiday events being planned by organizations like the church, and extended family members come in as a big provider for kids during this holiday season.”
The extended family element can be the most important.
“I work in a restaurant and my wife works in a restaurant, so their grandmother or their aunt takes care of them when they’re off school,” said Eriberto Alva Jr. as he loaded his daughter Gabriela into the car. “We try to work with the whole family. When they need us, we help them. When we need them, they help us.”
Keith Seraphin usually takes care of his son, Raymond, by himself. When he can’t, Raymond stays with family. “It’s the cheapest,” said Seraphin. “Sometimes the best, sometimes the worst, but always the cheapest.”
Parents are also looking forward to the vacation to spend time with their children. Burton-Bran is planning to take Missy to see the Nutcracker. Of course, other parents are simply getting more of the same.
“I am daddy day care. I am one of the lucky ones, my wife said, ‘Stay at home while I work’,” said Eric Cragin, smiling. “Knowing what I know now, I think she got the easy end of it.”
For information on the city’s recreation programs call 644-6530 and for the YMCA Kids’ Club 525-1130.