Survey: Many Youngsters Home Alone After School

ByAnjetta McQueen

W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 11, 2000 -- Despite attempts to lower child-care costs andexpand choices, many children are left alone after school ends andbefore their parents come home from work.

One in five children ages 6 to 12 are regularly left withoutadult supervision after school, according to a survey of workingparents.

Older children are more likely to spend their after-school hourshome alone rather than in day care, activities at school or underthe supervision of a relative or baby sitter, researchers at thenonpartisan Urban Institute reported today.

Main Barrier Not Necessarily Cost

They also found that more affluent, nonminority workers reportedleaving children home alone even if they worked 9-to-5 jobs. Thatsurprised some analysts and parents who believed the main barrierto supervision was cost.

“Self-care among school-age children is clearly a fact of lifefor millions of working families,” said report co-author GinaAdams, an Urban Institute researcher.

The report, based on a telephone survey of more than 44,000households in 1997, does not explain why parents make the choicesthey do.

“I’m sure they are anguishing and struggling and talking totheir kids on the phone as frequently as they can, cobbling thingstogether from one day to the next,” said Lois Salisbury, directorof Children Now, an Oakland, Calif.-based group that deals with theaffect on families of health care, media and tax policies.

Lack of Supervision Called Risky

Researchers, policy-makers and child advocates say the time anychild spends unsupervised is filled with risks such as injury, druguse, falling behind in studies.

“Millions of children without care in the hours after schoolare in harm’s way,” President Clinton said in a statement. He isseeking $1 billion for after-school programs for more than 2million children.

Salisbury said parents face new challenges in caring for theiryoungsters.

“Working parents could once count on a neighborhood of caring,watchful adults to fill in the gap,” she said. “Neighborhoods areghost towns during the day, and that is regardless of economicbackground.”

Parents surveyed tended to find care for the youngest ofchildren, regardless of income level or work hours; 10 percent of6- to 9-year-olds were in “self-care,” compared with 35 percentof 10- to 12-year-olds who cared for themselves until their workingparents get home.

By contrast, 55 percent of children 9 and younger were sentregularly to supervised care or activities while parents worked; 35percent of the older children in the study were usually supervisedafter school.

The survey was conducted by Westat Inc. of Rockville, Md.

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