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When Kids Are Picked up Late | Dear Rashida...

Rashida Ladner-Seward

Rashida Ladner-Seward is Director of Program Support at ExpandED Schools. This blog is part of our advice column where we answer burning questions from program directors, educators and administrators on how to develop and run successful expanded learning programs.

Dear Rashida,

Some parents are picking up their kids from our program as late as 30-45 minutes past our normal dismissal time -- and it’s not just the occasional 1 or 2 parents. Almost every day, a lot of my kids are left sitting in the cafeteria after dismissal, just waiting sullenly for their late parent to pick them up! I also need to send my staff home at a certain point because I can’t keep paying them past their schedule. Plus, we all have to get home to our own families as well! Help!

-Come Get 'Em!

Dear Come Get 'Em,

When I ran my program years ago, I sat many evenings well after our program’s dismissal time waiting with students for their caregivers to pick them up. I speak from experience when I tell you that I know how frustrating this situation can be.

One thing I always tried to do was make the children feel comfortable while they waited. Some children understandably had a great deal of anxiety, because they didn’t know why their parent was delayed. It is very important to keep students joyful and occupied during those waiting minutes (without giving incoming late parents the impression that a full-on program is still in session!). This could be something as simple as quiet activities (e.g., a read-aloud, coloring books or board games) on the opposite end of the cafeteria.  

I also had a couple of staff on a staggered schedule to help with coverage. One year, my gym instructor did not have classes to cover until after the snack/homework block, which ended at 4pm, so his daily schedule began at 3:30pm instead of 2:45pm like everyone else. The two of us would stay with the late students, and that typically satisfied the ratio requirements (I had over 150 students in my program at the time and rarely had more than 10 students past the 6pm dismissal). This staggered schedule also significantly reduced the overtime pay strain on my budget, something I frequently experienced during my first two years as a director.

I recognize that my strategies could be viewed as aiding those parents who are chronically late, but these tactics helped reduce my daily frustration. If you would like to go a different route, below are a few additional strategies that I hope will help you lessen the frequency of late pick-ups: 


Issue a joint letter from your organization and host school on school letterhead with a reminder about the program’s dismissal time and the late pick-up policy. 

Parents need to know that the policies for your expanded day have the full endorsement and support of your school principal. It is a good idea for the letter to indicate that your program’s space permit has a specified end time and that any time beyond the permit’s hours are subject to overtime fees, which are not budgeted and, therefore, will impact program quality in the long-run as other services may need to be reduced to pay the fees.  


Keep an active log of how late parents are over a set period of time on your sign-out sheets (I recommend a month).

Once a parent is more than 15 minutes late on more than five occasions in that period, contact them and set up a meeting to discuss. In that meeting, you may want to assess the following:

  • Does the parent have to rely on public transportation or is s/he traveling a long distance from work? Review bus schedules together and make compromises. Maybe dismissal is at 5:30pm, but if the bus usually gets in at 5:45pm can you be flexible with 15 minutes? Sometimes parents really appreciate the help on bending the rules and are less likely to take advantage. 

  • Is a pick-up designee to blame? If a sibling, grandparent or neighbor is consistently late, parents need to know if this person is not on time and hold them accountable!

  • Is parking an issue in the neighborhood? Maybe a staff person could walk a student to the sidewalk or around the corner if a parent calls.

  • Does the child have a friend who lives nearby and can his/her parents pick the children up together? We had parents split time so that three days a week one parent took over and two days a week the other parent was responsible.

  • Can the student walk home with a buddy or two, or take public transportation with a group from their neighborhood? This strategy is definitely effective with many of our middle school programs. In fact, some programs allow students to leave earlier than dismissal once daylight savings time kicks in. A director I know created “walking groups” when it got dark early, to make sure students were able to get home safely.

  • Are there other activities being offered in the school or neighborhood that the student can attend and be on someone else’s watch? Local libraries often have evening programs for kids. Perhaps (with parent consent) you can designate a staff person who can provide safe passage from your program to the next activity, so that students can get picked up from there later on. 


Make sure that parent and emergency contact information on file is up to date. 

Sometimes, a late pick-up can be an isolated event but very extreme. I once had a mom who was 2 ½ hours late due to an accident (fortunately not hers) coming from an appointment in New Jersey. The mom was unreachable and all of the contacts on her son’s emergency contact card were out of service. I made her complete a new card on the spot even though I really wanted to leave the moment she arrived. If a parent is unable to pick up their child due to an unforeseen or major delay, it is very important that a designee can be contacted to pick the child up in their stead.





♦ Have a question? Send it to info@expandedschools.org with “Dear Rashida” in the subject line. Be sure to check back each week for a nugget of wisdom.



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