Spring 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA3

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School-Aged Child Care Education


Kristine L. Blacklock
Assistant Professor
Department of Family Development
University of Wisconsin-Extension, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Self-care children, latchkey kids, unsupervised youngsters - the names differ, but each refers to a national societal phenomenon of epidemic proportions. Millions of school-aged youth are home alone before and after school, on school holidays, during teacher inservice training, and summer vacation. The Children's Defense Fund, a child advocacy group, estimates 5.2 million American children of elementary age bear the label "latchkey" children.1

According to the 1980 Census, 67% of Wisconsin women with children aged 6-17 years are in the labor force.2 Sauk County, Wisconsin, experiences a 75% maternal employment rate for families of school-aged youth. If these trends continue, by 1995, 34.4 million of the nation's children aged 6-17 will have mothers employed outside the home.

These societal trends have a profound impact on family life. For the employed parent, it's a tremendous challenge to meet work, child-rearing, and household responsibilities. When children reach school-age, working parents are faced with the task of making out-of-school transportation and child care arrangements. This includes daily transportation to and from school plus supervised care before and/or after school hours, as well as for school holidays, school vacations, teacher inservice days, emergency school closings, and child illnesses.

Wisconsin Study

The question now is two-fold. What child care needs are specific to families with school-aged children? What sources of information are preferred by parents? To help answer these questions, we conducted research in April 1987 to assess current and future child care needs, identify parent and child self-care educational needs, and identify preferred sources of child care information.3 Baraboo, Wisconsin (located in central Sauk County, population 8,081) was selected for the study based on an 82% maternal employment rate, a large industrial employment base, and an interest in this issue by the school district's administrative staff.

The study's subjects were parents with children enrolled in kindergarten through sixth grade in the public and parochial schools within the Baraboo School District. The survey was distributed to all 1,474 elementary-aged children as an enclosure in each student's third quarter report card. Each household was asked to return one sealed survey to the student's teacher or mail it directly to the UW-Extension home economist. Teachers kept a list of nonrespondents, who then received follow-up prompting. A total of 734 usable surveys were returned for a 67% response rate.


Anticipated Child Care Needs

Eighty-one individuals indicated they would use before-school
child care every school day, 34 parents needed care two or three times per week, and 40 respondents stated they needed care on an irregular basis. After-school care was needed on a daily basis by 130 respondents, 80 individuals would use after-school care two to three times per week, and 74 parents needed care on an irregular basis.

The earliest time care would be needed ranged from 6:30 a.m. (28%), 7:00 a.m. (13%), to 7:30 a.m. (21%). The latest time care would be needed ranged from 4:00 p.m. (16%), 4:30 p.m. (14%), 5:00 p.m. (26%), 5:30 p.m. (19%), to 6:00 p.m. or later (15%).

Respondents were fairly realistic about what they'd be willing to pay per child for supervised child care: 53% indicated they'd pay $1.00/hour; 18%, $1.50/hour; and 8%, $2.00/hour. Respondents felt the community should offer child care programs and opportunities for their elementary-aged children. They also felt such programs should be paid for by parents and not publicly financed through property taxes.

Self-Care Educational Needs

Respondents identified the following self-care educational needs for their school-aged children: how to apply first aid; what to do when there's a fire at home; how to answer the phone and door without letting anyone know the child is home alone; how to get help in emergencies; and how to deal with boredom, loneliness, and fear. Other needs cited were: safe food preparation; getting along with brothers, sisters, and friends; and following rules at home.

Preferred Source of Self-Care Information

Most respondents (86%) reported they'd like to have a self-care packet to prepare their children to stay home and an instructional videotape they could borrow to help teach self-care. Self-care packets should cover: a list of important phone numbers; procedures for coming and leaving home, answering the phone, and answering the door; and handling emergencies. It should also include information on establishing family chores, rules, schedules, and family meetings.

Building on the Research

The research showed a need for educational programs that help strengthen and preserve family cohesiveness; develop self-responsibility among children; and identify the physical, cognitive, and psychological changes in children aged 6-11 years. Areas that could be taught for elementary school children and their parents include teaching self-responsibility skills; dealing with childhood fear, loneliness, boredom, and sibling rivalry; and handling and reporting emergencies with an emphasis on first aid.

In Sauk County, we developed a program based on research results. The program, called "Self-Care: Being in Charge at Home," was developed to explain developmental characteristics of children 6-11 years old, identify potential risks and opportunities of self-care, and offer community school-aged child care alternatives.4 Classroom instruction (including discussion and distribution of a parent/child workbook and viewing of a home-alone videotape) was provided during the 1987-88 academic school year to kindergarten through sixth grade youth enrolled in the Sauk County school districts of Baraboo, Reedsburg, and Sauk-Prairie. Instruction was also made available to school-parent associations. Parent inservices focused on: situations requiring children to be self-responsible, awareness of the societal trends that have increased the number of school-aged children in self-care, anticipating risks and opportunities for self-care based on children's developmental characteristics, reviewing family rules, and exploring child care options. As a result of participating in the "Self-Care: Being in Charge at Home" program, 181 parent respondents indicated they practiced and adopted the following self-care skills with their children:

  • 85% discussed what the child should do when one leaves and arrives home.
  • 84% discussed answering the phone when home alone.
  • 79% developed a list of important phone numbers with their child.
  • 78% developed a home fire escape plan.
  • 78% discussed answering the door when home alone.
  • 67% talked about handling unexpected problems, such as lock out, power outage, etc.
  • 65% reviewed family rules and chores with children.

As a result of practicing self-care skills, respondents indicated their family benefited in the following ways:

  • 80% knew how to prepare children for time home alone.
  • 33% were able to more openly communicate about individual and family concerns and feelings.
  • 27% indicated they became a stronger, more cohesive family.

In 1988, the Baraboo School District needs assessment research data were used within the Baraboo community to substantiate the need for a community school-age child care program and help a nonprofit group day care center build a $105,000 preschool and school-aged child care facility. The expanded program will serve 2 1/2 through 10 years of age, operate from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and will provide transportation to and from elementary school.

Sharp growth in the number of dual-income families in the United States during the past quarter century has raised some important questions about child care. As maternal and dual-career employment continues to increase, school-aged child care issues will be increasingly problematic for parents, employers, schools, and communities. Extension-sponsored research and educational programs can anticipate, assess, and meet current and projected child care needs.


1. Lynette and Thomas Long, The Handbook for Latchkey Children and Their Parents (New York: Arbor House Publishing, 1983), p. 22.

2. Wisconsin Population Computer Information System (1980 Census Data), "Sauk County Labor Force Status vs Presence and Age of Own Children, Females 16 Years and Over" (Madison, Wisconsin: Applied Population Laboratory, 1985), Table 431.

3. A Baraboo Community Child Care Advisory Committee, Baraboo School District needs assessment, and elementary school-aged, self-care education program was developed by Kristine L. Blacklock, Sauk County UW-Extension home economist. For more information on activities and results of this special project, contact the Sauk County UW-Extension Office, Courthouse, P.O. Box 49, Baraboo, WI 53913-0049.

4. Ibid.