Overnight camp, park and recreation, sports programs. None of these summertime activities come cheap.
“I’m a single parent with two kids,” says Erin Sheak of Waterbury, who wanted to send her children, ages 4 and 7, to camp but didn’t know how she could swing the cost, as a restaurant chef, struggling to pay rent and utilities. “I called Care 4 Kids and they helped out a lot.” A combination of United Way and state programs can help moms and dads offset the financial strain of childcare, felt by many during the summer months when kids are out of school.
“It gives children a lot of opportunities but also what we find is that it also helps the parents. It allays some of their fears and anxiety of the unknown,” says Sherri Sutera, senior vice president of Child Care Services with the United Way of Connecticut.
First, parents can call 2-1-1 Child Care, the free, confidential community referral service that connects parents with state licensed childcare centers, nursery schools, play groups and summer options. This resource, also available at www.211childcare.org, assists more than 100,000 families each year.
“We have over 600 camps listed in our database. So, we can refer them to all sorts of camps,” explains Sutera. Referral specialists ask questions, such as, “What are the hours you’re looking for? Does your child have any special interests?” to match parents with the right camp to meet their needs. Sutera says they can also flag programs with “camperships”, sliding fee scales or lower prices for residents: “Some camps in Connecticut actually are free, depending on the type of camp.”
Then, parents can further “patch together” financial assistance by applying for actual reimbursement through Care 4 Kids (www.ctcare4kids.com). “The childcare subsidy program does require the families to be income eligible and working during the time the children would be going to camp,” says Sutera, explaining that Care 4 Kids contributes about $90 towards a camp that’s $300 a week. “Usually, the families will have some out-of-pocket costs but our goal is to try to make that as small as possible so they can afford to go and have their children benefit from the experience.” She believes many parents don’t realize all the help these services can provide: “We walk them through the licensing process, how to do a background check to see if the program is in good standing.”
Sheak can concentrate on her work, knowing her kids are busy, active and having fun at camp, making friends and meeting mentors: “It’s a relief. I’m really grateful for that.”