The high cost of summer vacation

“No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.” And for many parents, no more child care for eight hours a day. Summertime — every child’s dream season — can be every working parent’s nightmare.

Think about it: From late August or early September through mid-June, working parents have the luxury of public education to make sure their children are cared for, watched over, intellectually stimulated and exercised. Yes, it’s education. Yes, your taxes pay for it. But it’s also child care (and up to two meals a day).

As any working parent who played the house of cards known as child care when the kids were too young for school knows, it takes tremendous time, effort and lots of money to make sure your child is cared for — well cared for — while you are at work. And it eats a significant chunk of your pay.

In the summertime, that eight hours that school used to cover is like the Sahara Desert — how to get across it with everyone intact? Camps and day-long programs can really add up, good babysitters are hard to come by, and many daycare centers are full already from their year-round clients and won’t take on any seasonal additions.

We were lucky when our kids were small: I worked only 20 hours a week, and we had a wonderful older lady who took care of the kids on those days. When I went full time when the kids were in kindergarten and pre-K, I was able to add an affordable community center after care program one day and a friend offered to take them one day. In the summer, my babysitter went full time.

$958/child for the summer

A recent piece in The New York Times titled The Families That Can’t Afford Summer brought home the challenge that low-income working families face in the summer, especially those in the city. The woman in the opening of the article has a 6-year-old who might have to be home alone a few days a week because she can’t afford camp or care, and they live in the city.

Says the article:

“The assumption that underlies summer vacation — that there is one parent waiting at home for the kids — is true for just over a quarter of American families. … In 2014, parents reported planning to spend an average of $958 per child on summer expenses. Those who can’t afford camps or summer learning programs cobble together care from family members or friends, or are forced to leave children home alone. Self-care for 6- to 12-year-olds increases during the summer months, with 11 percent of children spending an average of 10 hours a week on their own.”

In my town, the summer program put on by our Recreation Department provides care from 8 a.m. to 4 pm. Monday-Friday for $575 for a resident, which is a bargain compared to that national average. That does not include the cost of fields trips (one per week), and the program ends Aug. 12. The kids return to school Aug. 31. That’s 11 wide open weekdays at the end of the summer. Plus what about parents whose schedules include weekend shifts? Care for those days is non-existent.

Local camps cost even more. An area nature camp averages $335/week for a non-member, plus $90/week if you need before- and after-camp care. Sessions run through August 26. That’s $425 a week for care from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If your kid did 11 weeks of nature camp, that’s almost $5,000. An area community center offers camp through Aug. 26 at a cost of $260/week if you need coverage from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. That’s almost $3,000 for the summer.

Tax credits, scholarships

The US Department of Health and Human Services defines “affordable child care” as taking up no more than 10 percent of a family’s income, but typically, only upper income families fit into that category. Lower income families would be looking at 20-30 percent of their income with some of the camps in my area.

According to The New York Times piece:

“Support offered to individual parents, from child care subsidies to the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, can be applied toward appropriate summer programs, but it also falls far short. According to the Center for American Progress, in 2011, 22 states had waiting lists for child care assistance, and just one in seven children who qualify for a direct child care subsidy in their state or community actually receives it. These programs are grants, not entitlements, and when the applications exceed the available funds, many are denied.”

This means it is critical to get all those receipts when you register and keep track of them so that come tax time, you don’t have to play catch up and rely on the program to get you the information in time. When investigating summer programs, make sure they fit the criteria for tax credits. And look for programs that offer scholarships — lots of camps do. Additionally, look for those that receive federal or state grants or subsidies, they may give preference during registration for low-income working families.

How about you? How do you pay for your kids’ summer time activities?

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