School-age child care is non-parental care that is provided for children of elementary school age. The need for school-age child care has existed for as long as single working parents and dual career families have had children in elementary school, because the hours of operation of most elementary schools do not correspond to the standard business day. Families also need care for their school-age children while the parent is taking courses or when the family is in a crisis situation. In the United States in 1991, approximately 1.7 million school-age children were enrolled in 49,500 formal before and/or after school programs (Seppanen, deVries, & Seligson, 1993). Canadian statistics indicate that 67% of families with children 6-9 years of age must make arrangements for either full- or part-time child care due to their work schedule (Lero, Goelman, Pence, Brockman, & Nuttall, 1992).
In both the United States and Canada, elementary schools, community and recreation centers, preschool child care centers, and family child care homes have responded to this obvious need for supervision during out-of-school hours by developing school-age care programs. Both the facilities and the program content differ from one program to another. Some programs focus on recreational activities so that the children can have the same extracurricular opportunities that are available to children who return home at the end of the school day. Others focus on enhancing children's learning by offering a more academically oriented program. In yet other programs, there is an emphasis on the creative arts including the visual arts, music, and drama. One must also consider that school-age child care programs enroll children from 5 to 12 years of age. Given this broad age range, it is essential to offer activities that meet the widely differing needs and interests of children over a 7-year age span.
In order to develop a comprehensive rating scale for school-age child care programs, the authors drew from a number of sources. Rather than proposing a particular program philosophy, the SACERS is based on criteria for developmental appropriateness for school-age children. Definitions of quality, such as the Quality Criteria for School-Age Child Care Programs (Albrecht, 1991), and extant instruments, such as Assessing School-Age Child Care Quality (ASQ) O'Connor 1991) and the Assessment Profile for Early Childhood Programs (Abbott-Shim & Sibley, 1987), were reviewed. Decisions regarding quality indicators were also based on research, including Canadian studies (Baillargeon, Betsalel- Presser, Joncas, & Larouche, 1993; Betsalel- Presser & Joncas, 1994; Jacobs, White, Baillargeon, & Betsalel-Presser, 1991; White, 1990) and studies conducted in the United States (Galambos & Garbarino, 1983; Vandell & Corasaniti, 1988; Vandell, Henderson, & Wilson, 1988). Best practice as presented in the literature (Seligson & Allenson,1993) was also taken into consideration so that the scale would reflect current ideas of what should be done to meet the developmental needs of school-age children.
Most important, the SACERS is an adaptation of the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) (Harms & Clifford, 1980). The SACERS is similar in format to the ECERS, the Family Day Care Rating Scale (FDCRS) (Harms & Clifford, 1989), and the Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) (Harms, Cryer, & Clifford, 1990), but the content is specific to the school-age care group.
The SACERS is composed of 43 items grouped under 6 subscales: Space and Furnishings, Health and Safety, Activities, Interactions, Program Structure, and Staff Development. There is also a set of 6 supplementary items for centers that include children with special needs. As in the other scales, each item is arranged as a 7-point scale with descriptors for each of the odd numbers: (1) inadequate, (3) minimal, (5) good, (7) excellent. An inadequate (1) rating represents a lack of care that compromises children's development, a minimal (3) rating is indicative of a custodial level of care, whereas a good (5) rating describes the basic dimensions of developmentally appropriate care, and an excellent (7) rating describes high quality care that expands children's experiences, extends their learning, and provides warm and caring support. The SACERS is meant to be used in center-based care, not in family child care homes.
Although the SACERS follows the format of the ECERS, FDCRS, and ITERS, readers familiar with those scales will notice two additions. First, a Training Guide has been included in the SACERS manual. It contains activities to prepare observers to be accurate users of the scale. Second, the SACERS contains sample questions to make it easier to ask for information that the observer is not able to see. These questions are included in the Notes for Clarification and indicate the level of quality they address. For example, Q(5) means that the information is needed to decide on whether to give a score of 5.
The SACERS was designed to be comprehensive yet easy to use, so that it would be helpful for classroom staff as a self-evaluation, for agency staff in supervision and monitoring, and for researchers who may wish to include a measure of global quality in their school-age child care projects. The SACERS can also be used in teacher training and as a guide for developing new programs.