Our school district has a 12-week summer vacation. I’m a single mom with a full-time job, so I have to find somewhere safe and fun for my 7-year-old daughters to spend the summer months. According to our divorce decree, my ex-husband is supposed to get 30 summer days with the kids when he’s stateside, but he had to decline that right this year, so arrangements for the entirety of the 12 weeks fell to me.
I pored over summer camp brochures. My kids qualified, academically, for the highly rated Summer Wonders program for gifted children, but the full-day program plus extended care (for two) was well outside my schedule requirements as well as my budget. I finally decided to go with a local YMCA program for 11 weeks and Girl Scout camp for 1 week and let the kids pick specific options.
A friend made all the transportation arrangements for Girl Scout camp and kept my daughters after camp until I got home from work that week. The paperwork was more than a little frustrating–why would a day camp require that I provide scans of the girls’ medical insurance cards?–but the kids had a fantastic time.
Most of the YMCA weeks were to be spent at a school location at one of their basic camps. Each of these basic camps has a weekly field trip, weekly swimming outing and fun activities all day, every day. The kids are obviously happy and well-cared for, and the counselors make sure that I knew the schedule, providing daily updates on a whiteboard, a printed schedule, and verbal reminders.
For a few weeks, we elected to sign up for a few “special” camps: tumbling, cheer-leading, soccer and cooking. These camps last from 8 am to 1 pm. Outside these hours, kids can additionally register for full-day camp, and the YMCA staff is responsible for transitioning the kids from one program to the other.
Once the kids were actually at their special camps, they had a blast. The counselors were fantastic. J, being petite, got to participate in the most fun part of all sorts of cheerleading stunts. She’s a “flyer.” M couldn’t stop talking about her dribbling, defense and scoring skills.
The administrative side, though, was just horrendous. I thought that, once I’d filled out the forms, paid out my $400 deposit ($15 per week per child for 12 weeks plus some base deposit) and paid the first week’s tuition, things would go smoothly.
In week one, I was the first one to mess up. I showed up to the school-based camp location instead of the specials place. One of the counselors made some calls to help me figure out where J and M should be. They were signed up for tumbling camp… except that they weren’t. I managed to register M and J on the spot for the school location and left them there while I tried to chase things down. As I said, the on-site staff, the people who actually deal with kids, are professional, accommodating, and infinitely helpful.
What had happened, it turns out, was that when I signed J and M up for tumbling camp (or perhaps when they got around to entering them into their system), the camp was full. So someone took the initiative to move my $30 deposit for the week to be a credit against another week of camp, without ever bothering to communicate the change to me, and effectively leaving me without childcare for that week. When I tried to point out that the appropriate, polite and professional thing to do would have been to inform and consult me, the manager simply said, “Well, I have no idea who did it. Jeff took your paperwork, but he would never do that. I can’t look up who did.”
Great. Thanks. That makes everything better. Obviously, my first impression of the “special” camps wasn’t fantastic. Neither was the second.
What I had gathered from the (incomplete) information on the YMCA website and from several conversations was that I could drop the girls off at the full-day location between 7 and 8 or bring them directly to their special camp at 8. On the first day, I decided on the latter. I easily located M’s soccer coach, signed her in, and began to seek J’s cheer instructor.
I asked for a location at the front desk. I was pointed to a room in the building. We went in and it was empty. It was 7:55. I called out, thinking that I was simply failing to see someone. There was no response. I went to the childcare program offices for help.
“We don’t run that program,” said the ever unhelpful Jeff. “You’ll have to ask at the front desk.”
“I already did,” I told him. “They told me to go to room X.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“There’s no one there.”
“Oh, you should take her down to the [location] for the full-day program.”
I loaded J into the car and went down the street to the full-day location. Drop-off was easy, and J and I made sure that the counselor knew that J was supposed to be going to cheer camp. I left, my heart easy. I knew Sophia, the woman running the full-day program, and I knew she’d make sure everything was ship-shape.
When I returned in the afternoon to pick up the girls, Sophia was there. “I was so surprised!” she said. “I came in around 9, and there was J! It was so nice to see her.”
That didn’t sound right. At 9:00, J should have been at cheer camp. I mentioned my confusion. Sophia looked at her paperwork and confirmed that J should have been taken to cheer. She promised to look into it. J told me that she’d repeatedly told her counselor that she was in the wrong place, but I imagine that the counselor is accustomed to the petulant and unrealistic demands of 7-year-olds.
Within 10 minutes of our leaving to drive home, Sophia called. She’d called a couple of people. She and her counselors had messed up, she told me. By the time J and I arrived that morning, the posse of kids destined for special programs had already left. I assured her that, while I appreciated her taking responsibility, there were plenty of others who had given us misinformation.
The next morning, we were there at 7:50. M’s drop-off with her soccer coaches went smoothly, but J’s was again problematic. I went to the classroom in question, and it was filled with serious looking types in suits. I again went to the front desk. I tried to express to the man there that I was seeking the cheer instructor, and he informed me that he wasn’t the person I should talk to. I asked who I should talk to. He told me that no one I should talk to was there yet. I asked who, among the people there, could help me locate my child’s coach. He finally gave me the phone number for the head of the program. I went back to my car to get my phone, called the number he’d given me, and left a message. She still hasn’t had the decency to return my call.
On the way back to the classroom (for the fourth time in 2 days), I ran into a friend whose daughter was also in cheer camp. They’d be meeting in the grass that morning because of the meeting taking place in their regular location, she told me. By the time we found them, the other kids were in a circle, stretching with the coach. A woman–Carrie? Casey? I’m ashamed to say I was too upset to have retained her name–asked if I would like to sign J in. No, I told her. I wanted to talk to her.
I told her the whole story. By the time I was half way through, I was sobbing. I told her that I was entrusting her organization with the care of my children, and their behaviour wasn’t filling me with confidence. I trusted Sophia, I told her, to make sure that my kids were safe. She’d earned my trust over months of consistent communication, thoughtful and gentle discipline, and excellent time management. Sophia knew and cared for my kids. I hadn’t gotten an impression of caring from the other administrative staff. The not-my-problem attitude wasn’t winning any brownie points.
Carrie (?) looked into the whole tumbling fiasco. She took a screenshot of the oddball transactions and put it on the accounts manager’s desk for him to investigate. She explained to me that getting full-day kids to their special camps was the responsibility of the full-day counselors. I told her that I had already spoken to Sophia and worked out that part of it. I did ask her why, when J was missing yesterday, I didn’t receive a call to tell that she wasn’t where she was supposed to be. A lot of kids, it turns out, just never show up, so they don’t bother calling no shows. I recommended that the two programs get on the same page about what should be done with kids who arrive in that grey time between 7:50 and 8:00. Parents would understand, I assured her, if we needed to stay 10 minutes. Just tell us that instead of sending us on wild goose chases.
Sophia called me later that morning to check in. I assured her that I felt that she’d done what she could. I let her know, though, that a coworker of mine said that he’d had similar issues at the location 15+ years ago. It was time to fix some things. She listened to my recommendations and promised to follow up. She even thanked me for giving her a parent’s perspective.
- Assign a person who is physically present to be in charge of parent communication at all times throughout the day, and make sure that all staff members know who that person is.
- Coordinate between programs so that managers know where children should be taken at what time.
- Provide clear and consistent expectations for drop-off times and locations to all employees and train them on answering questions with patience and a sense of ownership of the problem.
- Send email or written confirmation of registration records to ensure that parents have the same impression as the YMCA of their child’s schedule.
- Along with written confirmation of registration, send parents a list of assumptions. Who is responsible for our child at different points in the day? Where, precisely, are we supposed to go to drop them off and pick them up? What should they bring with them?
- Train data entry staff on appropriate handling of unusual cases or insist that they check with a manager before making modifications.
Honestly, I don’t have much confidence that they’ll fix anything. I’ll just have to trust that Sophia will notice even if everyone else loses track of my children. And this will be our last year of turning to the Y for special camps.
Edit: June 26, 2013, 11 pm CDT – Things got worse today. Read on.