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Not having after-school care for his son cost Jared Goossens a job.
As a single parent of a San Diego Unified student, Goossens needed after-school care. His son’s school schedule had already cost him one job, and it was keeping him from taking another. And he was barely scraping by. So, he searched – starting with San Diego Unified’s PrimeTime program, an umbrella term used to describe the free before and after-school care the district offers at its K-8 schools.
For a year he existed in a limbo of waitlists, email threads and office visits to his son’s school. He needed a full-time job to pay for rent and provide for his son, and he needed after-school care to get a full-time job, but nothing was panning out.
The looming reality of his predicament made him anxious and depressed. It wasn’t until he spoke to a San Diego Unified board member that he finally got a spot in the district’s after-school program. But that board member said Goossens’ receiving a spot wasn’t because of any special action on her part, but a result of the district’s pre-existing effort to expand access to after-school care.
Goossens is no stranger to hard work. The son of Indonesian immigrants, he’s had jobs since he was 11, working everywhere from the corporate office of Princess Cruises to maintaining cell phone towers. But in 2016, he was left to figure out a new kind of work – how to be a single parent.
When his son Everest was born, Goossens said he was filled with a mix of excitement and anxiety, and in the years since he’s built his life around him. “The reason why I’m still going is because I have him,” Goossens said.
As his son grew, he struggled to juggle parenting with the need to work full-time. For a while, he made it work. “I understand now what my mom went through as a single parent,” Goossens said. He got free childcare through CalWORKs Welfare-to-Work program, but when his son entered kindergarten, he was confronted with the new challenge of finding a way to transport him from school to the offsite childcare provider.
Having to drop his son off at 7:20 a.m. each day and pick him up at 2 p.m. four days a week, and at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays because of weekly half days kneecapped his ability to find steady work. So, Goossens began looking for after-school care that was either at his son’s school or one that provided transportation.
For the next year, he worked to find an after-school option. He applied for the district’s PrimeTime program and was put on the waitlist. He visited Hardy Elementary, his son’s school, multiple times for updates. Goossens emailed other subsidized providers, but some were full or didn’t provide transportation, and he researched alternative options, but the programs that had availability were prohibitively expensive, with some costing nearly as much as the rent for the one-bedroom apartment he shared with his son.
Each time he spoke to someone he found himself having to unspool his story, laying out the potential stakes of his not being able to find after-school care. “I could end up homeless, and then if we’re homeless my son isn’t going to school,” Goossens recalled writing in an email to one after school care provider.
The endless run around made him feel “almost like I just kept getting like the middle finger,” he said. He was feeling desperate, and the pressure and stress were getting to him. “It put me in a depression,” Goossens said. “The anxiety and depression, it’s just normal now. I became kind of numb, I guess you would say.”
Goossens isn’t the only parent who’s struggled to get their child into San Diego Unified’s after-school program. District Communications Director Maureen Magee wrote that as of November, there were over 4,600 families on PrimeTime’s waitlist, meaning around 30 percent of families who applied were unable to enroll their child in the district’s free after-school program.
During the year Goossens searched for after-school care, the stressors piled up. He lost a job in construction and had to decline an offer to work as a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service because of the restrictive schedule.
So, he went back to delivering food. But the pay was inconsistent, and he constantly worried he was one bad month away from losing his apartment. He was even more scared that the costly, and rising, rents in the region would prevent him from finding a new home. He needed a stable, full-time job. But he couldn’t get it without after-school care.
He was nearing the end of his rope when he received an email alerting parents that newly elected school board member, and VP, Shana Hazan was holding monthly office hours via Zoom with parents.
“A light bulb went off in my head in my head … it was like maybe this was an avenue for me,” Goossens said.
So, he signed up for a slot, and hoped for the best. At that point, he said he felt like a broken record. But much to his surprise, Hazan came through for him. A week later, he heard from her office that a director of the district’s PrimeTime program would contact him, and sure enough, he did.
At the end of Goossens’ call with Jaime Lillo, one of the supervisors for PrimeTime, he was told the program at his son’s school would be contacting him the following Monday to arrange enrollment. And sure enough, they did. Shortly after that, his son was enrolled in the program.
Goossens was shocked.
“I was like, ‘what?’ Somebody just waved a magic wand and all of a sudden, (I’m enrolled in) the program when I’ve been reaching out and, and talking to these people, with no avail. And then I go above their heads, and then all of a sudden, there’s room,” Goossens said.
Hazan said her heart broke for Goossens when she spoke to him.
“He’s a dad who cares deeply for his child, who is raising his son single-handedly and wants to do right by him,” Hazan said. “Holding down a good paying full-time job, paying his rent, being emotionally available for his kid, all of those things were hanging in the balance because he was on a PrimeTime waitlist,” she said.
But she doesn’t attribute the placement of Goossens’ son in the program to magic, or even to herself.
Her conversation with Goossens coincided with an already-planned expansion of the district’s after-school programs, she said, and that’s where the spot came from. In February, the district added PrimeTime programs at 8 additional schools, expanding the number of schools with the program to 125 of its 144 schools that serve K-8 students. From November to March, the district also decreased its waitlist by 1,491 families to 3,130.
“It wasn’t just Jared, that got off the waiting list, it was nearly 1,500 kids who now have access,” Hazan said. “This reflects this systematic prioritization of providing high-quality after-school programming to all our kids who need it, and we’re continuing to do more and more of it.”
Much of the progress is due to an increase in state funding for after-school programs that has helped the multiple contractors the district partners with to secure the staff needed to expand, Hazan said. “The good news is we have the dollars to actually provide the slots that are needed. The challenge is staffing,” she said.
Still, while a significant decrease, over 21 percent of the applicants to the district’s PrimeTime program remain in waitlist limbo. Goossens’ story wasn’t the first Hazan’s heard from parents unable to get their children into the district’s after school care program, and she said her goal is to clear the waitlist altogether. Hazan said she’s a realist, but she thinks it can be done.
“My hope is that when you and I talk this time next year, there aren’t any more Jared’s, that his story doesn’t exist,” Hazan said. “Everybody should have access to after-school care, period, and it should not be so hard, and you shouldn’t have to advocate and go above and beyond as a parent to gain access,” she said.
Goossens, who’s already lined up a new job in construction since his son began attending the district’s after-school program, is grateful for the help, especially because his son loves the program. But the experience was a reality check. It brought into harsh focus the intractable quagmire that working parents like him face, those who need to work a full-time job to survive and need after-school care to work. It also highlighted the dire need for more after-school care capacity.
“It shouldn’t be this hard for a working parent barely scraping by to find care,” Goossens said.
Some parents put their kids in free after school programs, even when 1 of 2 parents is a “homemaker”. This practice reduces the spaces available for enrollment.
Bad parents lie about their works hours/days in their application.
Not sure why the rest of society should pay for everyone’s free babysitting. This guy has been on the public dole his entire life.
as a 501c3 orgaizations you cannot limit access to a site to viewers who do not donate. donations are voluntary.your status with the IRS is in jeopardy.
I have paid my taxes my whole life and worked. When my son was 2-4 years old I took advantage of a program to get my son childcare so I could continue to work and provide for my son. As a single parent this program helped out. I don’t see where I was on the public dole my entire life.
The main issue here is SD County not having enough affordable healthcare. I wonder if I too step on some toes and talk to the higher ups I’ll be accepted into a program.
I am also a loving, caring single parent whose child has been on a waitlist for an after school program for some time now. I do what I can until the program is able to accommodate my child with necessary staffing and resources. If we were all to speak to higher ups or lie about our societal status the programs would be overcrowded and unsafe.
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