Unsupervised children a serious issue, say conference organizers Summit aims to improve afternoon programs for latchkey youngsters

July 17, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Thousands of Maryland children, among untold millions nationwide, are home alone after school or acting up while neither at home nor alone.

Unlike the movies, experts say, it's no laughing matter.

"You're lucky these days if your kid is home alone," said Molly Mitchell, who is helping organize an all-day statewide meeting Aug. 13 in Salisbury to give more order to the afternoon lives of children.

"This is the time when unsupervised adolescents and other kids between 10 and 15 get into trouble with sex, with drugs, with crime," she said.

"We're hoping to improve the programs we have and organize other after-school initiatives for the 2 [p.m.]-to-6 p.m. hours when many parents work," Mitchell said. "People with successful programs will explain their projects" to participants from all over the state, she said.

A study by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development showed that, without such programs, out-of-school hours present serious risks. "The risks are substance abuse, crime, violence, unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases," Mitchell said.

Another study, by the University of Southern California, concluded that unsupervised middle-school children were more stressed, angry and depressed. Compared with supervised children, they also took more risks, such as smoking cigarettes and marijuana and drinking alcohol, she said.

Mitchell is coordinator for after-school AmeriCorps programs to be started this fall by the Governor's Commission on Service, one of the Salisbury meeting's sponsors.

The commission coordinates the state's AmeriCorps programs, offers technical assistance to nonprofits and directs other service initiatives.

Police Athletic League (PAL) officers, educators, mental health workers, AmeriCorps volunteers, Girl Scout leaders, substance abuse specialists, Points of Light workers, adolescents and others will attend "Home Alone" at Salisbury State University.

The morning session will focus on subjects such as "Model Programs" like PAL, and "Introduction to Service Learning," such as visiting hospices.

The afternoon session will allow participants to hear about successful initiatives in their areas, such as Western Maryland or Baltimore.

Maryland law, which requires that a child be 8 years old to be left alone or 13 to be left to care for a younger sibling, appears to be violated frequently. Mitchell and others say they've heard experts charge that many children age 7 and younger go unsupervised.

No agency, including the U.S. Census Bureau, knows how many latchkey children exist in Maryland, or in the country, partly because many parents are unlikelyto say so on surveys. Nationwide, at least 6 million children are estimated to be unsupervised.

The Salisbury meeting, one of the largest of its kind in Maryland, also is sponsored by the Governor's Office on Volunteerism and Service and the university's Volunteer Center.

Registration is $30 for adults and $10 for students. The registration deadline is July 31. For information, call the Commission on Service at (410) 225-1216.

Participants will get reports on successful programs. The two gubernatorial agencies will follow up with the third annual Maryland Volunteer and Service Summit Dec. 5 at the Pikesville Hilton.

About 400 adults and students will hear talks and plan projects. Young people will take part in workshops and later will assume responsibility for service projects in their communities.

Leaving children at risk, even legally, can be damaging, Mitchell said. "Children are not little adults," she said. "They need adults to mentor them, develop their talents, skills and interests."

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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