When code enforcement officers started inspecting apartments in a small Washington-area town, they uncovered an alarming problem. There were kids in apartments all over town – kids too young to be alone, kids whose parents just couldn’t afford daycare.
According to a Washington Post report over the weekend it’s happening all over the country – parents are leaving their kids alone so they can save a little money on daycare.
It’s not hard to understand. The costs of daycare are high, and many parents report they’re working as much to pay their babysitting bills as they are the mortgage or rent and put food on the table. When it comes time to cut one, food and shelter win out over paying another adult to be there when you’re not.
Not that I’m excusing the parents who left their five-year-old daughter to be found by code enforcement officials, cowering in the closet of her family’s apartment in Riverdale Park, Maryland or the family who kept their ten- and twelve-year-old home from school to watch their younger siblings.
But I can see how they made their choices. And they’re hardly the first generation to do so. A large percentage of our greatgrandparents’ and grandparents’ generations were pulled out of school by their parents to help out at home, the need to take care of younger brothers and sisters while Mom helped Dad in the fields or took in sewing or did whatever it took to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Unfortunately, they never went back to school.
That many daycare workers are underpaid makes this an even more difficult mess to solve – better wages would mean a hike in daycare costs for parents who are barely making ends meet themselves. So how do you help parents?
One of the answers may be in shifting the opinion of who can stay home alone and for how long. In Maryland, child welfare workers say the basic rule calls for kids younger than thirteen to have a caregiver watching them. They say they’re enforcing that on a case-by-case basis, however, because of the circumstances.
And that’s how it should be. I don’t know any five-year-old kids who should be left alone, but I do know some very capable eleven-year-olds. On the other hand, there are some fourteen-year-old kids I wouldn’t trust for a minute in a house or apartment by themselves. That’s something parents should know about their kids, and a choice they should have the power to make.
Image: The Washington Post