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School-Based Child-Care Programs Called 'Natural'

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Boston--School-based child-care programs are one of the most common and workable solutions to the problem of latchey children, according to many of the participants in the "First National Conference on Latchkey Children."

And while most schools do not want to run after-school programs for children, most child-care advocates agreed, they are often receptive to the establishment of such programs by outside community groups.

"The schools are the place where child-care programs can really take off in this country," said Robert Antonucci, superintendent of the Falmouth (Mass.) Public Schools.

"Unfortunately," Mr. Antonucci continued, "school facilities have not been utilized as they should be. ... [They are] the most underutilized facilities in the country. They stay closed longer than open."

Natalie Zuckerman, who established the first school-based child-care project in Brookline, Mass.,3agreed. "The schools are the place for the children," she said. "The schools belong to the public who pays for them."

Mr. Antonucci and Ms. Zuckerman agreed that every school district should have an established school-use policy covering legal and financial responsibilities and hours of operation.

If no such policy exists, they said, community groups that are attempting to set up school-based programs should develop their own policy and present it to the school board for approval.

Program Guidelines

In a session on formal child-care programs for school-age children, participants were given guidelines in the development of school-based programs. "You can't go it alone," said Tim Essons, after-school director of the South Shore Day Care Services in Braintree, Mass. "It's very difficult to get programs started and make them work. You really have to have community support."

Michelle Seligson, director of the School-Age Child Care Project at Wellesley College, added another view: "The biggest challenge to school-based programs is to make them different" from the regular school day, she said, so children do not equate after-school care with school-day instruction.

The issue of licensing also prompted discussion. While most participants agreed that regulations established for preschools are often inappropriate for school-age children, they disagreed over whose responsibility it is to develop and enforce revised regulations.

David Wynn, director of national program-development services for the Boys Clubs of America, suggested that organizations such as his and other child-advocacy groups set standards for the operation of after-school programs. But several participants responded that state or national regulation of the programs' operation is necessary.--ab

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