Home Alone in North Carolina


Published:

Jeana Lamb* would love to know exactly what both her sons are doing after school while she's at work — but she has to settle for a little less.

Two years ago, the single mother enrolled her younger son, now 8 years old, in a YMCA after-school program at a 40 percent discount. Even with financial assistance, she can only afford to send one of her boys. Her oldest, now 12, has been staying by himself at home since he was 10.

"He calls me when he arrives home every day, and we talk during his time home alone constantly," the Huntersville mom says. "I would love to be able to afford both kids in after-school just so they could both benefit from the social interaction."

Working mom Lisa Foster knows that her two daughters enjoy the social aspects of Charlotte-Mecklenburg School's (CMS) Afterschool Enrichment Program (ASEP). But Foster's primary goal isn't socialization, it's supervision.

"One of the biggest advantages is that I know where my children are each and every day after school," she says. She also likes that her daughters, both in elementary school, get their homework done daily and have time for study or review before she picks them up at 6 p.m. And she's vocal about the curriculum: musicals, programs and special projects and field trips on teacher workday.

"For the peace of mind I receive, it is well worth every penny we spend," she says.

Lamb and Foster are working moms. Their situations are very different, but they both want the best for their children.

Benefits of after-school programs

According to POST statistics, children spend 50 percent more time out of school than in school. This includes the hours before and after school, school holidays and summer vacation. Large chunks of time like these are important when it comes to child development. And parents count on after-school and holiday programming to help their children grow and mature.

Advocates for after-school programs point to the many benefits of private, nonprofit and public programs throughout the state. Students enrolled in these programs typically get help with homework, participate in sports and other physical activities, prepare for tests, work on school projects and make new friends. In the Young Scholars survey, 69 percent of parents indicated that they believe such programs improve school attendance and reduce dropout rates.

"My daughter has been able to participate in Chess Club, Children's Theatre and other after-school activities on-site," says Greg Vacek, a Charlotte father of a Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy student. "She has been able to exercise and play with friends outside where she probably would watch TV at home."

Program options are limited

The problem is, according to 2005 survey information, North Carolina is "flunking" when it comes to afterschool programming. Results released in the summer of 2005 from the Young Scholars Afterschool Survey of North Carolina's Working Parents indicate that 91 percent of the state's working parents believe after-school programs are "absolute necessities." Yet more than one-third gave the state a failing grade when it comes to expanding after-school care.

That means parents like Lamb and Foster — and many of Carolina Parent's readers — don't have nearly as many options as they should. Only 14 percent of all children in North Carolina are in after-school programs. And almost a third of children from working families are completely unsupervised in the afternoons. Of those, it's estimated that 30 percent are "latchkey kids," children who have keys to their homes and are often alone at home after school because their parents are at work.

"There are just so many latchkey children out there," worries Claire Tate, director of Partners in Out-of-School Time (POST). "Parents are doing the very best they can. We have 5,000 on waiting lists for child-care subsidies in Mecklenburg County alone."

Many programs are expensive

A number of program directors say that expense, transportation difficulties and restricted hours of operation keep many parents from enrolling their children in after-school programs. Middle- and low-income parents and those in rural communities experience the greatest difficulty

"It's expensive! That's where the problem lies," says Tate, who estimates the average cost for a school-age child for after-school care to be $4,000 annually. She says the answer is to invest more public dollars into after-school and school programs.

Monnie Griggs, the extended learning coordinator of Durham Public Schools agrees. "The reason more families do not take advantage of afterschool programs is due to financial restraints," she says. "Most organizations that operate after-school programs are either nonprofit or self-supporting departments. Our department operates solely on parent fees and grants. There are limited resources that would allow these agencies to operate non-fee programs for families."

Affordable solutions

The YMCA is the largest provider of after-school care in the country. In Charlotte, it ranks as the second largest provider of after-school care during the year. (CMS's program is the largest).

"The Y provides financial assistance and is able to serve middle-income families who don't qualify for public assistance," says Jennifer Durkin of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, who noted that after-school teen programs are also offered and transportation is available from most schools.

A number of parents across the state rely on a variety of after-school programs within public and private school systems. CMS's ASEP program currently serves 6,000 students at 87 elementary schools, four pre-K centers and 17 middle schools. The cost is $51 a week (or $204 per month) for the first child; $49 additional per week for a second child.

According to Leigh Bishop, assistant director for the program, parents can receive subsidy assistance through Child Care Resources or through the city. She thinks the real stumbling block for participation is often transportation, which is not provided at CMS.

"Families with younger siblings choose to have school-age students attend the day care so that their children are picked up at one location. Also, families that have older siblings probably allow children to ride the bus home and are cared for by an older sibling," Bishop says.

In Durham Public Schools, before- and/or after-school programs operate in all 28 elementary schools, all nine middle schools and one high school. Fourteen percent of elementary school students participate in afterschool programming. The cost per month for non-grant funded elementary programs is $135 for after school and $45 before school.

In Orange County, the cost is $35 per week (or $140 per month) for one student in its after-school program. Seventeen percent of elementary school students participate, and 35 percent of middle school students attend in a unique program for ages 11 to 14.

All elementary schools and some middle schools in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools offer before-school care, after-school care or both. Fees are charged, but scholarships are available for students who demonstrate financial need.

Guilford County Public School's after-school program for grades K-5 costs $35 per week and features a regular study hall. Other parents of school children often turn to private child-care options such as day-care centers or after-school baby sitters, which range in cost from $5 to $10 an hour, often pricier than nonprofit programs, church day cares or care provided by extended family members.

Perhaps the least expensive alternative is allowing children to stay home alone with no supervision. The cost: as little as it costs to make a duplicate house key. Or is the cost really much greater?

Legions of latchkey kids

Lamb defends her decision to allow her oldest stay home alone: "The age of a child plays a factor in determining when they are ready to be alone, but I think their maturity level and their own confidence and security with being home alone is also important. I know that he's fine."

Gail Angle of Durham Social Services says her office has minimum standards that child protective service social workers use as a guide to determine if a child can safely be left alone.

"Children 5 and under are not to be left anywhere alone. They must be supervised by an adult by visual and auditory contact, especially when they are left outside," she explains. "Children from 6 to 8 years of age are not to be left alone for more than a few minutes. Children 9 to 10 are not to be left alone for more than two hours, and children ages 11 to 12 are not left alone for more than four hours."

Parents aren't always aware of these guidelines, and even those who are can't always adhere to them. "We do run into this problem quite often and, for the most part, people just can't afford after-school programs and summer camp programs," Angle says.

Home alone too much, too soon

Rosa Andrews, who works with NC State 4-H, a program that provides support for 4-H after-school care providers, worries that financial constraints are leading parents to make decisions that aren't in their children's best interests

"I would suspect that children are being left alone that are too young to be alone. We hear sad stories all the time of latchkey children harmed when alone," she says.

According to recent statistics, juvenile violence and crime rates are four times greater during after-school hours, and youth are 37 percent more likely to become teen parents if they are not involved in after-school activities. Furthermore, young people home alone for long stretches of time are at great risk of multiple social problems.

"Latchkey does have a negative connotation. Kids are exposed to garbage TV, household accidents, violent video games, as well as early experimentation in sex and drugs," says Tate, who also worries about what kids are missing out on. "Arts, sports, literacy, social and emotional skills. You don't get that sitting at home alone.

Kids aren't the only ones who suffer

North Carolina's lack of affordable and accessible after-school programs may be affecting the economy, as well. According to the Young Scholars Survey of North Carolina's Working Parents, absenteeism and decreased productivity stemming directly from parents' needs to provide after-school child care cost businesses between $500 and $2,000 per employee annually. More than half of the working parents surveyed have taken time off from work to care for their kids or transport them after school.

"When working parents worry about their children, business dollars walk out the door," says Gail Daughtry, executive director of the program.

Although state officials and child development experts set forth guidelines about when children can be left alone safely, most agree that there is, in fact, no magic number or age. Instead, parents must weigh their options carefully, often making hard choices based on maturity levels, safety concerns, financial obligations and transportation issues.

According to the Afterschool Alliance, a national public awareness and advocacy group, these choices would be far easier if parents had more numerous and more affordable options from which to choose — public, private, low-cost and free. The organization's goal is to secure accessible afterschool programming for all children by the year 2010. And that's a goal every parent can support.

* Name changed to protect privacy.

Note: This article was written in 2005.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Triangle Places for Family Fun in Winter

The Triangle offers lots of play escapes where kids can create and learn — and many outings are free.

Taming Thumb-Sucking in an Older Child

How to help kids ages 6-10 break that thumb-sucking habit.

Volunteer and Community Service Opportunities in the Triangle

Thinking of volunteering? See these places where Triangle families and teens can get involved year-round or seasonally.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2017

Help Videri Chocolate Factory celebrate its 5th anniversary with special products available this day only and prizes at the door. Activities for kids include face painting, arts and crafts and a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Videri Chocolate Factory
327 W. Davie St., #100
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Listen and learn about the members of the woodwind family: flute, clarinet and bassoon. Family Concerts in Kirby Horton Hall last one hour. Come early to check out the instrument zoo. Ages 5 and...

Cost: $10 adults / $5 children and students

Where:
Kirby Horton Hall, Sarah P. Duke Gardens
420 Anderson Street
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mallarmé Chamber Players
Telephone: 919-560-2788
Contact Name: Ellye Walsh
Website »

More information

See the first feature documentary created about the famous writer, poet, actress and activist.

Cost: $5

Where:
The Cary Theater
122 E. Chatham St.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join Bach to Rock for a day of Rock Band Camp on MLK Day. Students will name their band, design a logo, build their repertoire of songs, record their music in our studio, and finally...

Cost: $75

Where:
Bach to Rock
958 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Bach to Rock
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

More information

Spend the afternoon helping to maintain and beautify the area around the center in honor of MLK Jr. Day of Service. All ages. Registration required for either the 10 a.m.-noon or 2-4 p.m. session.

Cost: Free

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
123 Middle Creek Park Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Website »

More information

Triangle families are invited to celebrate MLK Day with a family-friendly birthday party for Dr. King. Enjoy English/ Spanish storytimes, kids’ zumba, interactive activities, crafts,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Northgate Mall
1058 W Club Blvd, Northgate Mall, I-85 Exit 176
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: MomsRising
Telephone: 919-696-0142
Contact Name: Beth Messersmith
Website »

More information

Ages 3-5 enjoy stories.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Enjoy an hour-long nature series film, popcorn some scientific exploration. Participants may also take a dinner and watch the film. Register online by Jan. 13. Choose course #199053.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Center
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children delight in discoveries of shapes, colors and textures in nature. Ages 1 and older with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Go on a hike, make a craft and learn how to help wild animal friends. Ages 3-5. Register online.

Cost: $3/child

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-6764
Website »

More information

Parent and child enjoy a craft, an engaging activity and a guided walk. Ages 2-6. Register online by Jan. 14. Choose course #199096. 

Cost: $3

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Center
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

CycleBar, a new concept in premium indoor cycling that offers a high energy workout in a concert-like atmosphere, celebrates its Cary studio grand opening by offering locals free rides from Jan. 19...

Cost: Free

Where:
CycleBar Alston
5022 Arco St.
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Website »

More information

Children delight in discoveries of shapes, colors and textures in nature. Ages 1 and older with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

This workshop introduces parents to reasons behind common behaviors that create difficult situations while providing suggestions to prevent and manage parenting challenges. Parents are encouraged...

Cost: $20/person, $30/couple

Where:
Project Enlightenment
501 S. Boylan Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-7774
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

CycleBar, a new concept in premium indoor cycling that offers a high energy workout in a concert-like atmosphere, celebrates its Cary studio grand opening by offering locals free rides from Jan. 19...

Cost: Free

Where:
CycleBar Alston
5022 Arco St.
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn about grey squirrels, their habits, habitats, and the perils they face. Register online either the the 8:30-10:30 a.m. or 1:30-3:30 p.m. session.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Parkway
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Parent and child enjoy music, stories and an art activity to provide a meaningful Shabbat experience led by seasoned preschool teacher Morah Elizabeth. Ages 5 and younger; older siblings welcome....

Cost: Free for members, $5/nonmember child

Where:
Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Center
12804 Norwood Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Center
Telephone: 919-676-6170
Contact Name: Jill Lokitz
Website »

More information

Moms wanting breastfeeding help or those who simply want to interact with other breastfeeding moms enjoy a casual drop-in cafe with experts from La Leche League. lalecheleague.org/nb.html

Cost: Free

Where:
Grow, The Family Boutique
2885 Jones Franklin Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Telephone: 191-980-33521
Contact Name: Heather Dickens
Website »

More information

Enjoy a kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified and participatory music show. Children delight in active,...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump it Up Briercreek
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
"Pump it Up" Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Discover wildlife, their habits and their habitats through hikes, activities and crafts. Ages 5-8. Registration required.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

CycleBar, a new concept in premium indoor cycling that offers a high energy workout in a concert-like atmosphere, celebrates its Cary studio grand opening by offering locals free rides from Jan. 19...

Cost: Free

Where:
CycleBar Alston
5022 Arco St.
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Website »

More information

Zaniac Learning invites all local residents to its grand opening event, which features refreshments, raffle prizes, tours of the brand-new center and a chance to meet the instructors. Attendees can...

Cost: Free

Where:
Zaniac Learning
1206 Parkside Main St.
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Telephone: (919) 342-8536
Contact Name: Matt Pepe
Website »

More information

Parent and Me is a combination acrobatics and aerial class for young children. With a parent, kids ages 3-7 will build a foundation of coordination, flexibility, balance, and strength that can...

Cost: $25

Where:
Lux Performance Arts
1231 Perry Rd., Ste. 102
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Contact Name: Jamie Trudeau
Website »

More information

Parents learn basic infant massage techniques to perform a full body massage for a baby to help promote bonding between parent and child (of any age), helps infants align their circadian rhythm...

Cost: $50

Where:
Grow, The Family Boutique
2885 Jones Franklin Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Telephone: 191-980-33521
Contact Name: Heather Dickens
Website »

More information

Go nutty for nature as children satisfy some of their curiosity about the world around them and parents share in the joy of discovery. Ages 3-5 with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Go on a hike, make a craft and learn how to help wild animal friends. Ages 3-5. Register online.

Cost: $3/child

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-6764
Website »

More information

Parent and child enjoy a craft, an engaging activity and a guided walk. Ages 2-6. Register online by Jan. 17. Choose course #199097. 

Cost: $3

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Center
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Each year, Cranberry Tree Farm donates its unsold trees to the Conservators Center for its animals to enjoy as a special form of holiday enrichment. During this walkabout, watch as wild animals...

Cost: $24 ages 12 and older, $18 ages 3-11

Where:
Conservators Center
676 E Hughes Mill Road
Burlington, NC  27217
View map »


Telephone: 888-650-1139
Website »

More information

Learn about birds and build a bird box. All ages with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $20/resident, $28/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Take an interactive musical adventure as Daniel Tiger and his friends explore the vibrant world of their much-loved Neighborhood of Make-Believe, sharing stories of friendship, helping others and...

Cost: $29.50 and up

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Create a chainmaille necklace. Ages 12 and older.

Cost: $22.50 plus $8 materials fee

Where:
Durham Arts Council
120 Morris St
Durham , NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2726
Website »

More information

Take an interactive musical adventure as Daniel Tiger and his friends explore the vibrant world of their much-loved Neighborhood of Make-Believe, sharing stories of friendship, helping others and...

Cost: $29.50 and up

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module

Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Exceptional Child

Children with special needs face unique challenges. Find resources from A-Z in areas of advocacy, education, camps and therapies to support them as they grow.

GPS [Go. Play. See]

GPS is your guide to explore all the Triangle has to offer, from museum expansions to new parks and schools to youth sports and family fun. Plus, discover our 2016 Readers' Favorites.

Education Guide

The 2016-17 Education Guide offers 643 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.