Demand for after-school child care in San Bruno is so great that parents waited for hours overnight to assure their children are enrolled in programs operated by the city.
While the scene of residents camped out with lawn chairs and blankets in front of the Parks and Recreation Department for the first crack at registering is disconcerting, officials are optimistic each request will be accommodated.
Community Services Director Kerry Burns said delays tied to hiring highly qualified candidates to lead the programs led to some families being wait-listed, but she is confident all will ultimately be offered a slot.
“We are able to provide after-school care to whoever wants to enroll at the school sites in San Bruno,” she said, of the program operated by the city in classrooms provided at every school in the San Bruno Park Elementary School District.
Such a commitment addresses concerns raised by Heather Burns, whose husband waited for hours in line earlier this month assuring their first-grader would be able to get a spot.
“We are just a working, middle-class family and we need to have our kids in after-school care so we can work,” said Heather Burns.
The city’s program runs through the afternoon into the early evening and costs either $125 per month or $1,065 per year — which Heather Burns said is about $4,000 less annually than the amount she has to pay for her younger child’s private care.
Kerry Burns said the comparatively low rates and commitment to accommodating demand are available through the dedication of officials who recognize the local need for quality child care programs.
“The [City Council] is incredibly mindful of the pricing for the program, because they understand how essential it is for working families,” she said, adding there is financial aid also available to those who cannot afford the baseline cost.
Kerry Burns said enrollment levels have increased in recent years, generating difficulties for officials in hiring highly qualified candidates who lead classes focusing on homework as well as social activities.
“The challenge here is to hire enough people,” she said.
For perspective, the city’s enrollment since the 2013-14 school year has increased by about 100 students to 425, said Kerry Burns, which is about 30 percent growth over the past three years.
Because the city takes great pride is assuring the program offers quality programming at a low cost to everyone enrolled, Kerry Burns said it can be difficult to appropriately staff each site by the time school opens.
“We endeavor to hire the highest caliber staff to support the program. We are very thorough in our hiring process,” while noting the hiring should be completed shortly which will open the door to all interested families.
Issues surrounding growing demand for child care are not unique to San Bruno, as communities throughout the Peninsula are grappling with difficulties tied to program staffing and enrollment.
In neighboring South San Francisco, families for the past few years have also lined up overnight to enroll their children in after-school classes.
The shortage of such services has grown so severe throughout San Mateo County that a task force has formed pushing for policy and development amendments designed to make child care programs easier to establish.
Officials behind the county’s initiative have said the uptick in enrollment recently is tied to a greater recognition of the benefits offered through the programs, as well as the increased cost of living.
As the Peninsula grows more expensive, it has become more common for both parents to work full-time jobs which reduces their ability to accommodate their children during work hours.
Such a scenario resonates with Heather Burns, who said stopping work as a teacher to address her son’s after-school needs is not an option for her family.
“I can’t quit my job. I’m not going to be a stay-at-home mother. I need the health care, the pension and the salary they provide,” she said. “It’s really hard for working-class families.”
Heather Burns noted she felt fortunate to get her son enrolled successfully with the city, for fear of the alternative to paying the private program’s higher rates.
While understanding those like Heather Burns assign great value to the city’s program, Kerry Burns said officials are committed to assuring everyone who wants a space is provided one.
And with regards to the overnight lines faced, Kerry Burns said she is hopeful such an issue is avoided in the future.
“Our goal for the next year’s school year cycle is to make sure that no one waits in line, because we understand what an inconvenience that can be,” said Kerry Burns.
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