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After-care options for dual-income families

In a perfect world, school and work hours would run concurrently. But the average school day begins at 9:00 a.m. and continues until 3:00 p.m., while the average work day lasts from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. As a result, parents must arrange for child care during those hours when school is out, but Mom and Dad are still at work.

The two-income family is more common than ever before. Up until the 20th century, a dual-income family was rare. Today, however, roughly 80 percent of families in North America have both parents working, and many find it is impossible to live on one income.

Dual-income families often have to make difficult choices about child care. If a mother returned to work shortly after giving birth, day care was probably arranged early on. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, 48 percent of children ages 0 to 4 with employed mothers were primarily cared for by a relative. Twenty-four percent spent the majority of their time in a center-based arrangement. As children grow and attend elementary school, traditional day care is usually not an option and parents have to make other arrangements.

School-based care

Many schools offer programs both before and after school, many of which are reasonably priced. This helps dual-income families, but may not be practical during early-release days, during teacher planning days or holiday breaks.

Programs that help parents before school typically allow working parents to drop off their children before the parents head to work. The students are kept in the school's gym or cafeteria until the regular school day begins. The same scenario applies to after school programs. At dismissal, after-care students will return to the designated location to work on homework or engage in some activities with other after-care participants until their parents arrive to take them home.

Family and friends

Parents who prefer a different situation than school-based care frequently turn to friends or family members to bridge the gap between school and work. Students who carpool may be dropped off early at the driver's home and stay there after school until their parents get home.

In addition, many families have welcomed older relatives back into their homes in light of the struggling economy. In such instances, grandparents or aunts and uncles can look after the kids once school has ended for the day.

After-school programs

Some children are enrolled in care centers that watch children before school, bus them to school and then return in the afternoon to pick up the children again. This is one of the more costly options in child care. However, it may be more educationally structured than the care programs provided at school.

Students who participate in sports or academic clubs may have an arrangement to stay with a teacher, coach or club administrator until their parents are home from work.

These programs vary depending on the region of the country and the particular school district. Personal finances also play a role in the type of care families can afford.

When the decision is made, there are some questions parents should ask before enrollment.

* What is the ratio of caregivers to students?

* What is the cost of the program?

* How are delayed opening days and early dismissal days handled? Holidays and breaks?

* What happens if I arrive late?

* What activities will take place?

* Is there ample time for homework?

* Are caregivers teachers or volunteers?

* Are background checks conducted?

* Is financial assistance available?

* What is the turn-over rate of staff?

* Is there a nurse available?

* Who oversees the program?

* Is busing available?

* How are emergencies handled?

* How is poor behavior handled?

* May I visit the program for a check-in?

* With whom do I