Navigating Summer Child Care Options

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In many parts of the world, school children are counting down the days before their annual break between academic grades. In the meantime, working parents are running out of time to secure child care solutions for the extended break.

Researching child care options and availability can turn out to be a time-consuming chore for some parents, which is one of the reasons why Workplace Options developed its Work-Life program. The program can help participating employees maximize their time by researching child care options and availability on their behalf.

J.D. Loftis, Work-Life Consultant

We recently interviewed J.D. Loftis, a Work-Life consultant with Workplace Options, to share his insight on some of the steps he takes to help connect parents with child care resources for the summer months.

Finding the right summer camp for you child can feel overwhelming. What is the best way for parents to get started?

Defining your needs is an important first step. Often times, by identifying the non-negotiables, you can automatically narrow down your list of options. For example, how old is your child? If he is 11, you can automatically rule out camps for children 10 and younger. Does your family need a camp that is available five days a week or only on certain days? If your schedule changes each week, then ignore those camps that require a full-week commitment.

Other basic questions to consider:

  • What hours are needed based on your work schedule?
  • How far are you reasonably able to drive to a camp?
  • What is your budget?

After defining your needs, the next step is to identify your preferences. In some towns, parents have a wide variety of summer programs available to choose from, including:

  • Child care centers that offer a separate summer program for school-age children
  • Church camps provided by local congregations
  • Day camps run by city or county parks and recreation departments
  • Programs led by national non-profit organizations like the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs
  • Residential camps

In addition, some camps focus on specific areas of interest, for example cooking camps or football camps. Is your child interested in exploring a hobby or developing a skill over the break?

The camp setting should also be considered. Does your child prefer to spend most of the day outdoors or indoors? How important is access to a swimming pool or video games?

Should you involve your child in selecting a summer camp?

That really depends on your child. You know your child better than anyone else. Will involving him in the process help him feel better about the experience? How will she react if the camp she is really excited about ends up being full already? If you have narrowed down the options to a few camps, you may consider giving your child the final vote.

What kinds of questions should parents ask when inquiring about programs?

Parents want to trust their child will be kept safe at camp. Therefore, you should feel comfortable asking as many questions as you want when it comes to the steps the camp takes to protect campers. Here are some basic questions to start with:

  • How many children attend the camp?
    • What are the ages?
    • How are children grouped?
    • What is the ratio of children-to-staff?
    • What is the required ratio for your community?
  • What is the experience level of staff?
    • How are they supervised and trained?
    • Are background checks conducted?
  • What are the camp’s written policies and procedures?
  • How is medication administration handled? How are medical emergencies handled?
  • Does the program offer field trips?
    • If so, how many staff are included?
    • How is transportation provided?
    • Are seat belts required?
  • Has the camp received any accreditations, licenses or certifications? (this varies by area)

Other important questions include:

  • What is the cost? When is payment required? What is the cancellation policy?
  • What time does camp open and close? What happens if I come after the designated pick-up time?
  • Is lunch provided? If we bring lunch, is it refrigerated? Can it be warmed up in a microwave?
  • How is discipline handled?
  • What is the daily schedule? How much choice do campers have in selecting activities?
  • Can you provide references or letters of recommendations?

Finally, whenever possible, parents should also do a site-visit and look for the following:

  • Child-to-staff ratio
  • Interaction of staff with children
  • Maintenance and cleanliness of the facility
  • Location of meals and snacks
  • Adequate access to water, bathrooms, shelter from heat or rain
  • Sleeping accommodations for overnight camps