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Do It Better: Evaluating After-School Childcare Options

By Joyce Venezia Suss

School days typically end at 3 pm, which leaves working parents with a challenging window of two or more hours before they arrive home. If you are faced with this parental dilemma, here are some common options for after-school care.

After-school programs are becoming more common, offered by the school itself or independent operators. Children remain in the school building until you pick them up by a certain time. Most of these programs are supervisory, but some may provide homework assistance or simple diversionary activities.

Off-site after-school programs can often be found at church and recreation centers (such as the YMCA/YWCA) with a range of enriching activities, homework assistance and after-school snacks. Some even offer transportation from the child’s school.

Other outside activities are offered by scouting groups, sports teams or religious centers. To handle transportation, work out a barter system where a trusted friend/parent will take care of after-school transportation, and you can drive their child for evening and weekend activities.

Rely on family members and friends. Relatives who are willing to care for children after school are a valuable benefit. Some parents set up childcare co-ops, trading childcare hours with each other. 

Hire a nanny from a reputable agency that will check backgrounds and credentials, and let you interview a variety of candidates. The nanny can help with homework, drive children to after-school activities and playdates and provide personalized care.

Arrange to work remotely after 3 pm, or complete your hours in the evening. If your employer allows it, a flex-time schedule often provides an ideal solution. Some parents work part-time when children are young.

Staying home alone

New Jersey does not have any laws that specify a legal or appropriate age to leave a child home alone, but most experts believe a child should be at least 12 years old. The decision largely depends on the child’s developmental maturity and other factors.:

• How often and for how long will the child be left alone? Is it every once in a while or every day? Studies have shown that children who are left unsupervised for many hours are at greater risk of getting into trouble, developing poor socialization skills, and possibly experimenting with drugs and alcohol. 

• Children must be able to follow your directions and rules, be willing to tell you if there are problems and be capable of handling an emergency.

• Will the child be supervising younger siblings? Allowing a mature child to watch siblings for an occasional hour or two can teach responsibility, but it causes stress on a daily basis. Adolescent children are not emotionally mature enough to ensure the well-being of younger ones.

• A trusted adult should live nearby, in case the child has questions or is faced with an emergency.

There are various resources to help parents who may need guidance and financial assistance to find after-school childcare. Locally, visit ccrnj.org for more information.

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