Article written by Rev. Bill J. Cook Interim Elder
I guess I’ve reached that ripe old age where I am saying “do you remember when (and no I would not want to do it again.)”, as a student of time I was remembering my grade school days and many of the activities of those days. Some of you will recall how we began our day; Mom made you breakfast, hugged you, kissed you, and sent you off to school, upon arrival the class would say prayer, give the flag salute, and begin their assignments with anticipation of recess and the final bell, however my most fondest remembrance was after school,( before I continue let me give you a short history lesson).
I was raised in a small Oklahoma town, which was started during the Land run of 1889 in each city a certain lot of ground was given for the building of schools. That lot in my city was in the middle of town, four denominational churches located themselves on each corner of the school property. This proved to be a wise decision of our City Founding Fathers, I can’t give a date when Church leaders decided this outreach but they began to have an after-school ministry at a predetermine time, where the kids could attend a different church once a week allowing them to get to know each other’s beliefs and having a good time doing it. All the churches had snacks; activities like basketball, baseball, and ping pong, along with Bible study, this is where I gained my love for all brothers of faith.
The problem with going down memory lane is it always ends up on the corner of Today and Real Life: where Mom as already left for work and Dad is absent she left a breakfast pocket for her children to heat in the microwave, and the bus honks impatiently, school begins with silence, and the bully is always around the corner, while the fear of a shooter is on the horizon, loneliness seems to be everywhere. I have taken a long path to get to my point children need an act of kindness, a place of safety we as the Church can give this to them. In an article from Frances Kemper Alston (2007) which can be seen at aboutourkids.org, shares some gloomy statistics in regard to our children who are home alone.
Alston cites that one third of school age students in the United States go home to an empty house or apartment, during all or a part of the week. The U. S. census whom Alston is quoting, believes the number of latch key children, who are age five to 13 to range between five to seven million the numbers could go higher. This is a large amount of children without supervision many even are home alone at night while parents work the night shift. The Census Bureau found that 15% were home alone before school, 76% after school, and 9% at night with parents who may work a night shift.
I can relate to these children I had lost my father at the age of 17, I had two younger brothers age 16 and 15 my mother had to work two jobs to support our home. Although we were old enough to care for ourselves it was left up to we boys to prepare our meals and complete our home work. We had a good upbringing and our rebellion was light but the absence of our mother allowed us the freedom to do whatever we desired. It is always a Mothers hope that her children can be trusted but without adult supervision, children can quickly be drawn away from any belief system.
I found it interesting that even though our family situation was brought on by a death according to Alston findings, families who earn twice the poverty income where more likely to leave their children alone, where as those with low income are less likely to leave their children home alone. We often see this problem to be a low income problem but it is more likely to be a higher income family that needs our help. It does not mean that lower income families don’t need our help, the reason given in Alston’s report showed that the reason lower income families had less children home alone was because of dangerous neighborhoods or the lack of any support systems such as friends or family. A Latch Key ministry would allow parents, who are forced to leave their children home alone a sense of peace and give low income families a break from the stress of child care, possibly reducing child abuse in the home.
This brings us to the question what are the effects of children being home alone. For myself being home alone as I stated gave me the freedom to do whatever I desired, however it was contingent on my ability to hide it from the neighbors. I had learned early on in life when trying to steal some fruit from a neighbors tree, that even though I did not know the victim the victim knew my mother and father, the curse of a small community. We never hear about the children who are doing well but has Alston’s report disclosed we do hear about the one third of all complaints reported to child welfare agencies and the concerns of teachers who believe the 51% of children doing poorly in school is because they are left home alone, meanwhile juvenile delinquency and crime has risen 48% in the afternoon hours. These statistic only prove our fears that children left alone are involved in destructive
activities in the report Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development found 8th graders left alone for eleven hours a week where twice as likely to abuse drugs and be sexually promiscuous compared to those who keep busy after school.
These statistics say only one thing, what an opportunity for ministry. So often we in the ministry struggle to know how to reach our community, here is that open door. When a Church is able to show this act of kindness to their community the parents will get behind the church. What are some of the positive outcomes of this Ministry.
• The community will become aware of your organization.
• Those in your church who desire to do outreach can become involved. (Grandpa, Grandma, and retired teachers for example.)
• Parents will know their children are safe and where to contact them.
• Self esteem will rise.
• The church can help to improve socialization skills
• Reduce promiscuity and premarital sex.
• Reduce the spread of sexual disease.
• The church can assist with home work, which raises the grade level of the students, the School District will sing your praises. (Higher grade levels mean more support and funding from the government.)
• You will be ministering “to the least of these” if you recall in Luke 18: 16 our Lord said “… Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”
It of course is not our desire to be praised by man but a Latchkey Ministry can touch the whole community. Like any ministry you should begin with prayer, gather all the information you can to determine where the greatest need of the children are and seek Gods vision for this new ministry, there will be obstacles to overcome for example:
• Your organization will need insurance to cover accidents.
• Unfortunately in this day and times a Bond which covers legal suits in the case of child abuse may be required.
• You may be required to have some formal training by the state or other organizations.
• And be prepared to do back ground checks on all your workers.
• At first your organization will have to carry the expense of the ministry, there may be some assistance from local or federal grants. The opportunity for growth and giving may be great as parents get to know their children’s caregivers.
In closing I applaud my mother, in her defense she was able to get her boys active in Boy Scouts, band, and FFA the expense was a burden for her but she knew the cost of leaving us home to our own devices would be a greater cost than she was willing to give. It was during this time we began to resist our Mothers attempts to keep us in church but fortunately she had keep us in church in our earlier years, those memories of Sunday School would be what lead me to receive Jesus in my life. The Church cannot start to early to reach souls for the kingdom, I encourage you to prayerfully consider a Latchkey Ministry. Take time to read the complete article by Alston, search out other material and let the Holy Spirit guide as he always will. God Bless!
http://www.aboutourkids.org/articles/latch_key_children , by Frances Kemper Alston, Date Reviewed: May 1, 2007, NYU Study Center