Elementary school classes in France finish at 4:30 pm and schools close at 6 pm at the latest. During this hour and a half after classes end and before children can return home, they are looked after, however only routine activities to pass the time are organized. In addition, schools are closed on Wednesdays. In most cases, French school hours are a challenge to parents’ working schedules.
Those who can afford it hire specialized afterschool care or babysitters, who ensure the logistics of bringing children to their various extracurricular activities such as sports, music, or arts. These activities take place outside the French school system, as the Ministry of Education is very resistant to mixing formal education with any optional activities and considers school grounds to be a sacred space for school learning. Even attempts from the Ministries of Sports and Youth to open schools at night and on weekends have repeatedly failed. Municipalities have also fallen short in creating acceptable afterschool alternatives, as the hours after 6 pm are overtime and caregiver unions lobby to protect the interests of their members; most being mothers themselves and wanting to take care of their own children.
Low-income families and single parents cannot afford extra childcare expenses, and their children walk home alone after 6 pm. They end up on the streets or home alone, which may contribute to poor school performance or delinquency. This problem is particularly acute in the case of singe parents (80 percent being mothers), which represent 35 percent of families in the Paris area and nearly 20 percent in the rest of France. Without a reliable childcare option, many fail to find or keep their jobs: Only 34 percent of single parents are unemployed. With on average lower levels of education and income, single parents are also less likely to send their children to extracurricular activities, which remain a privilege of the wealthy.
There are several employment programs and services designed for single parents, but they fail to reach their intended audience. Without adequate childcare options, which give priority to employed parents, single parents often skip the program’s workshops and counseling sessions, which can endanger their access to benefits. This lose-lose situation often leaves single parents with low self-esteem, depressed, and isolated.
There are, however, many untapped resources in the community to support single parents and the multitude of challenges they face. For example, the bottom spaces of buildings are designated by law to be devoted to social projects. Another untapped resource is unemployed people. All across France, thousands of unemployed artists currently live on social aid and would love to share their skills and passion with children. In addition, many retirees would enjoy giving their time to volunteer, but lack the proper infrastructure and legal certificates to do so. Until now, there was no catalyst to creatively combine these resources into an adequate afterschool mechanism.