Recently, I was reminded about how far our profession has to yet travel to be “professional”. It seems every0ne in the field is clamoring for After-School Care to be considered a “profession”, but this won’t happen until some basic wage and staffing structures are changed to reflect an ethical value placed on retention and the fair consideration of the importance of the work in which we are engaged.
We have been lucky enough to have an aide that has been working with us at our site for the past three years. In fact, Danny reminds me very much of… well, me, twenty years ago. Funny, irreverent, a musician… like having a cartoon hanging out at your site.
Oh, yeah… did I mention? Danny has that innate (and I’m starting to believe that it’s inborn and not learned) talent to relate with kids on a very fundamental and real level.
So, for the past three years, Danny has been with us at our site.. a definite favorite amongst the kids and staff alike. Along the way, he’s brought a world of comics, music, humor, PMA, and good times with him. Because he feels hamstrung by a learning disability, he has resisted college at every turn- even if it meant a promotion to teacher for garnering some Early Childhood Education units at the local junior college.
But, units or not, Danny is exactly the kind of person you want to have with your kids every day after school. Caring. Funny. Interested in what kids are saying and thinking. Creative. Involved.
But, for a 21 year-old, eight bucks an hour and twenty hours a week isn’t going to cut it in the real world. Rent still needs to be paid. Food still needs to be purchased. And then there’s the issue of health care. He found a job at a local sporting goods store that was willing to pay him a few cents more per hour, offer him insurance, and schedule him for more hours per week.
As the middle manager in the situation, unable to alter what the company would offer Danny, all I could do was thank him for his service, hope and pray that he would change his mind, and limply wave goodbye as he walked out the door that last day.
When I was an aide in the early 1990’s, still finding my way, my voice, I was fortunate enough to work for Palo Alto Community Child Care, an organization that believed enough in the profession to offer even its part-time employees health care (among other wonderful benefits). Had benefits not been a part of the scene… I probably would have been another Danny – gone. Instead, someone or many someones there at PACCC recognized the importance of retaining staff, especially those with the inborn relatedness to kids. And they tried to retain them in any way possible. And they had a great record of keeping staff on board- especially staff that has that key ability to connect with kids and provide positive leadership and guidance for them.
But, in today’s reality of After-School Care, “minor” players such as Danny seem to be discarded and discounted as the “rule”, and only the truly longsuffering (or parentally supported) will survive the crucible of poverty and (probably more important than money) denigration through corporate devaluation of their personal and professional worth. Or they could get lucky enough to work for one of a microscopic minority of companies or organizations that truly and creatively conspire to honor the importance of the work done in the profession of After-School Care.
What is so sad is that, while we all pay lip service to worthy wages, staff retention, and professionalism, the harsh reality of the current climate in After-School Care will continue to discard the Dannys and the thousands of others like him without thought, reflection, or remorse.
I, of course, wish Danny well, and do not begrudge his difficult choice of sacrificing a work-life of meaning for a work-life of self-sufficiency.
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