Summer break is finally here. For many people, that may bring back memories of pools, camps, popsicles, and other summer fun, but unfortunately, the reality is not as carefree for thousands of children and families in Durham. During the summer months, there is often a collision of difficulties facing low-income families: access to affordable child care, food insecurity, and the achievement gap.
There are 23,000 children birth to age 5 in Durham County, and only 29% are enrolled in licensed, regulated child care programs. There are more than 3,000 children currently on waiting lists for child care scholarships and subsidies. This is a critical need in our community, especially during the summer months when young students are not in school and some child care centers operate on reduced schedules.
Here at the Partnership, we help make child care more accessible and affordable through Smart Start-funded programs, NC Pre-K, and Durham Early Head Start. These high-quality programs require a significant financial investment – one with an unparalleled future return – on a local, state and national level. This is why we continue to advocate for Durham’s young children and urge our leaders and policymakers to advance the availability, affordability and quality of our early education system.
For the 71% of elementary school children receiving free or reduced lunch in Durham Public Schools, no school often means no meals during summer break. Food insecurity and hunger takes a toll on children’s health and development, often leading to serious short- and long-term health issues as well as behavioral issues.
Organizations like the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and East Durham Children’s Initiative are fighting childhood hunger by offering summer meal programs as an alternative to meals typically provided at school. In addition to a nutritious meal, these programs offer activities to help keep children engaged, active and learning all summer. The Food Bank also holds an annual “Stop Summer Hunger” campaign to collect food and funds, with a goal of providing 3.3 million meals this year.
Access to books in the summer is another thing that is vital to every child’s academic success. When children aren’t in school, they forget crucial skills they learned during the year. This phenomenon, known as summer learning loss, is particularly detrimental for children from low-income families and for new readers, like those who are just finishing kindergarten. With limited access to books and other academic opportunities in the summer, it’s estimated that summer learning loss accounts for 80% of the income-based achievement gap.
Literacy programs such as Book Harvest’s Books on Break, as well as summer reading programs at Durham County Library and Barnes & Noble, are helping to get books into the hands of children who need them the most. Through Books on Break, students select 10 books on their own to take home and enjoy during the summer. This year, nearly 2,800 elementary school students in Durham benefited from Books on Break, including rising kindergartners at Glenn Elementary who were offered a chance to participate in the program as part of our Transition to Kindergarten Initiative.
We want summer to be filled with fun activities and learning for all young children in Durham. Please click here to learn more about available resources and how you can help children be healthy and engaged this summer!