According to census data in 2011, over 4 million children were left without supervision for more than 6 hours every week on average. Because of government and grant-funded afterschool programs, these numbers have dropped dramatically. In 1995 it was estimated that 18% of elementary aged children went home to empty houses. Since after-school program legislation passed in 1998, that number has dropped in all categories. The percentage of children from single-parent families going home alone dropped from 24 to 14% and children of married couples with both employed dropped from over 20 to about 15%. However, in 2009, budget challenges cut funding for many after-school programs putting more children at risk of becoming latchkey kids (Rajalakshmi1 & Thanasekaran, 2015). Since then the Trump administration has also threatened to cut more funding from afterschool programs.
In 2015, 42,000 children, 44 percent of children, in Wichita, KS live in single-parent households representing a 6 percent increase from 2012. Data from 2016 shows a 3 percent decrease with 40,000 children living in single-parent households (Kids Count). If we transfer the percentage of children from single-parent families going home alone (14%) to children from single-parent families currently in Wichita, KS, there are potentially 5,600 children from single-parent families in Wichita, KS left unsupervised after school for an average of 6 hours every week.
Children as young as 5 and 6-years old are being left alone!
While 6 hours per week doesn’t sound very bad, we must keep in mind that this is an average and does not represent the age of the child and the length of time. Laughlin (2013) found that in the spring of 2011:
- 4.2 million (11 percent) of the 38.6 million grade school-aged children living with a mother cared for themselves on a regular basis during a typical week in the month preceding the interview.
- Within each age group, 5 percent of elementary school-aged children and 27 percent of middle school-aged children living with their mother were in self-care for some time during a typical week.
- The use of self-care ranged from 2 percent among 5 and 6-year-olds to 29 percent of 14-year-olds. (p. 11)
- 14 percent of grade school-aged children living with an employed single mother were in self-care. (p. 14)
Fourteen percent of grade school-aged children living with an employed single mother were in self-care.
Many working single-parents work nonstandard hours (nights and weekends) or simply do not get off work until later in the evening. Latchkey programs in the Wichita, KS school district end at 6:00 pm and parents must have their children picked up by closing time; there are no transportation services provided at the close of latchkey programs.
I met one single mother who did not get off work until 7:00 pm and her children ages 5, 9, and 11 had to walk more than a mile home from school and stay alone until she came home 2 hours later. I asked her if she had any family who could help transport the children from the afterschool latchkey program to home and she said, none that she could trust. Too often, single parents come from broken dysfunctional homes with family members struggling with addictions and/or personality disorders leaving the single parent with no familial support system. She said, even if she did have someone to help transport, the cost of the latchkey program was more than she could afford.
In my personal experience as a single mother, I had to work evenings and my children missed out on many opportunities to attend sports or other classes at the YMCA which could have enriched their lives because there was no one available to transport them. I will do some detailed research on this subject later, in the meantime, Psychcentral.com has an excellent article regarding the negative effects of leaving children alone and steps to make it work. Here is an infographic from the US Census Bureau illustrating that only 28.9 percent of children from single-parent households attend extracurricular sports and only 24.1 percent attend lessons such as music or dance outside the classroom compared to 38.2 percent of children (sports) and 32.6 percent (lessons) with two married parents. Providing transportation services to latchkey children can increase these low percents by as much as 11 to 14 percent.
Transportation and costs have been cited as major barriers for children to attend afterschool activities. According to research provided by Afterschool Alliance, 91,728 Kansas K-12 students are alone and unsupervised after school while 70,407 are enrolled in afterschool programs and 132,731 are waiting for an available program. Nationally, 52 percent of likely participants chose not to enroll their child in an afterschool program because their child does not have a safe way to get to and come home from afterschool programs; 52 percent also cite afterschool programs as being too expensive. Lack of transportation and high cost are the top two reason’s parents who likely would participate are not participating (information current as of 7/31/2018)
Source: America After 3 PM, p. 21
We are currently working on a solution to provide transportation services to all families with latchkey children with reduced or free cost to those who income qualify. To stay up to date with what is happening, please use the form below and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.