When Virginia Clinton-Lisell learned in February that the summer day program she had planned for her 9-year-old daughter, Katie, was no longer running, she struggled to find an alternative – only to find that , even months later, it was already too late.
Katie, who has special needs, has been participating in the same summer program for years. It is run by its old nursery school and the staff know it well. Recently, however, several staff members have left to pursue careers outside of early childhood education. Finally, there simply weren’t enough people left to support a summer program.
Finding a new program proved difficult, however. Most summer learning opportunities near the Clinton-Lisell home in East Grand Forks, Minnesota are not available to neurodivergent children like Katie.
“She needs a lot of enrichment and a lot of patience and finding that combination can be very difficult,” Clinton-Lisell said. “She gets bored very easily.”
When Clinton-Lisell finally managed to locate a program that could accommodate Katie, it was already full of a waiting list. Hoping to start next year, she asked program staff if she could go ahead and sign Katie up for summer 2022. That too had a waiting list.
Although most summer apprenticeship programs are physically open this year, the demand for summer enrichment has far outstripped resources and manpower, according to one. recent national study conducted by the Alliance after school.
“It doesn’t even come close,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the alliance.
This lack of resources has forced program operators to limit the number of children they can serve, leaving parents and caregivers to fight for some valuable places. Even though only 2% of summer apprenticeship programs are closed, the Afterschool Alliance reports that 52% of summer programs have had waiting lists this year, up from just 40% last year.
Much of the problem is the staff. In an industry where many jobs are part-time, pay minimum wage, and lack benefits, recruiting and retention can be difficult, Grant said. More than half of program operators say they are concerned about their ability to hire enough staff, according to the organization’s report.
The Ferguson, Missouri Parks & Recreation Department typically serves around 50 children in its two 10-week summer day camps, but this year only two people have signed up to work as camp counselors.
Most of the city’s camp counselors are high school or college students, said Katelyn Haniford, who runs the camps. However, the city only pays minimum wage and cannot compete with local retailers like Target and Amazon, who start their employees at much higher hourly wages.
“It really throws a key in programming,” Haniford said.
The Ferguson community depends on the day camp for summer child care, Haniford said, so canceling completely was not an option. Instead, the department chose to cancel its teen camp and make up for lost programming by increasing the age limit for its young campers to 13.
Although new staff arrived after Haniford appealed for help on Facebook, the camp remained understaffed, meaning advisers didn’t have much leeway to plan. activities. In the end, the camp was able to increase its number of campers to around 70, but between eight and 15 children remained on the waiting list at all times.
Yet even as program costs rise and program operators express high levels of concern about their ability to meet the needs of children and families, they also express high levels of optimism.
For Grant, the executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, the American Rescue Plan, the sweeping COVID-19 relief plan adopted by Congress in March, represents an encouraging policy change.
The plan allocated $ 30 billion to support out-of-school learning, including $ 1.22 billion for summer enrichment. Given that federal funding for out-of-school programs has been quite stagnant in recent years, Grant said, the package is an important indicator that the government recognizes the role that the field of out-of-school time has played in supporting children. and families during the pandemic. Now the task is to keep the momentum going, she said.
“It is really imperative that we do everything we can to convince the decision makers, which are the state education agencies in the local education agencies, to fund holistic programs that have partnerships between schools and community-based community organizations that work with children, ”Grant said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect amount allocated for extracurricular learning by the US bailout. The article has been updated with the correct amount.