By Jef Rouner
The public school system is by far the primary form of childcare for working Texas parents. On top of that, many Texas kids are part of the 13 million children nationwide that rely on school lunch programs in order to have three meals a day. When the holidays come around, what happens for the two weeks that kids are out of school?
Unfortunately, many of the supplemental child care programs also shut down for the winter holidays. Parents who rely on programs like Club Rewind won’t find them open when schools are closed. For the people who can afford it, though, there are usually camps.
Ripley House in Houston’s East End, for instance, offers various STEM winter camps all day at affordable prices. The DramaKids program also runs winter camps for the theatrically-minded child, and they have 10 locations open across the state. In fact, most extracurricular gyms and art activities usually have at least something your child can do during the day, though it may or may not be enough to allow you a full shift at work.
Still, if you have the money, day camps can be a great benefit to the bored child who is driving you crazy rooting around the house for their presents.
“My son needs the social interaction, and we like it because it allows him to continue building on his knowledge of science and math,” says Dan Castillo from Houston, who uses the Ripley House camps. “The programs there seem to help him do both equally. It’s been a nice, balanced structure.”
Of course, that is assuming your child doesn’t have special needs. Unfortunately, parents of disabled or neurodiverse kids have a very hard time over the holidays when state-funded programs are on vacation.
One mother, who asked not to be identified, says she has a rough time finding daycare for her foster children who have experienced past trauma. Her middle child has been rejected from four separate daycares because they did not have proper discipline training.
“We love them dearly and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world, though we were really feeling in the beginning that they should have selected a stay-at-home parent because we were worried we might not be able to keep both of our jobs to look after them,” she says.
Susie McGowan of Spring, Texas echoed her sentiments. She’s mostly given up trying to find care during the holidays because of her deaf and autistic child.
“It’s harder than normal for us,” says McGowan. “She’s not accepted at almost any childcare facility and finding a reliable babysitter that can keep up with her is damn near impossible. One of us usually ends up leaving our job to care for her.”
In the end, many parents have to rely on themselves to safely care for their kids during the break. Whether because of financial limitations, special needs of their children, or both, they often end up burning through vacation days or relying on the largesse of grandparents or non-working relations.
Feeding children can also become a parent’s nightmare. Anyone who has had bored children stuck around the house knows that they are capable of eating an incredible amount of food in a short period of time. Without the structure of school, they often start to graze on both your pantry and your wallet.
There are some programs available to help food insecure families. Kid’s Meals is a program that serves over 30 zip codes across the state. If you qualify for their aid, they deliver regular and even holiday meals to families. In Cy-Fair ISD, there is the Cy-Hope backpack program that already provides food from the Houston Food Bank on the weekends. If your child already qualifies for nutrition assistance at school, contact your district about supplemental programs.
For all that the holidays are times to be together, the fact is that the loss of reliable, subsidized childcare and meals can put intense strain on parents. If they have jobs that continue over the federal holiday (hi, from the land of freelance journalism!), children’s needs have to be juggled with work schedules and other concerns.
Enjoying it is hard when you’re stressing over basic necessities.