After-School Programs

A Safe Haven for Kids
Many parents cite safety concerns as a principle reason for enrolling their children in after-school programs. Nearly half of juvenile crime occurs on weekdays between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and children are at a greater risk of being victims of a violent crime between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., according to the U.S. Department of Justice. After-school programs can help kids steer clear of other types of trouble, as well, says Judy Samuelson, director of the advocacy organization Afterschool Alliance. A growing number of studies suggest that kids in after-school programs may benefit from reduced pregnancy rates, less drug use, and less violent behavior, explains Samuelson.

Even though numerous surveys have documented strong support for after-school care, programs across the country remain poorly funded. The cost for a single child in an after-school program ranges from $2,000 to $4,000 per year. Parents' fees pay for a portion, while federal, state, and private grants pay for the rest. The Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers funds many of the programs. Grants from this program have been steadily growing since 1997, but currently can only fund a fraction of those that apply.

What to Look for in a Program
Thinking about enrolling your child in an after-school program? Start by asking your school or contacting a local childcare referral service. A key feature for parents to look for, says Heather Weiss, an after-school care researcher and director of the Harvard Family Research Project, is whether a program supports their child's needs and interests. Some children benefit from the slower pace of a smaller program, she explains, while others might prefer the social experience available in a larger program. Another feature to consider is whether a program encourages involvement from parents and the community.

Beyond basic concerns such as safety, a clean environment, enjoyable activities, and a trained staff, what else should you consider? Ask these questions when evaluating an after-school program:

  • Does the program offer a variety of academic, recreational, cultural, and community activities?
  • Is the programming tailored to the ages and needs of children who are served?
  • Does it use fun, hands-on approaches to learning?
  • Does the program offer activities that expand and enrich the curriculum that children receive during the school day?
  • Is help with homework provided, as well as time and space for quiet study?
  • Is staff-parent interaction encouraged?
  • What type of flexibility is offered to accommodate parents' schedules?
  • Are there resources such as a library and sports equipment?

In partnership with National PTA. Adapted from "Choosing a High-Quality After-School Program" in National PTA's Our Children magazine.

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