Why has demand for afterschool programs increased so significantly?
There is a strong and growing demand in this country for quality afterschool programs. This demand is partially in recognition of the good that afterschool programs can do for children and youth, but it is also a direct result of fundamental changes that have taken place in the way American families work and live.
The proportion of single-parent families and of families with two parents working outside the home has grown dramatically in the last few decades. According to 1998 figures from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, nearly two-thirds of school-age children and youth live with a single employed parent or two parents who are both employed. These families need supervision for their children beyond the hours of the traditional school day, and particularly between the hours of 3:00 p.m., when dismissal occurs, and 6:00 p.m., when most parents arrive home from work.
|Elizabeth Shier of the San Diego Regional Consortium Children's Initiative explains what it means to parents to have quality afterschool options.
Parents who don't have access to affordable, quality care for their children during the afterschool hours worry about the well-being of their unsupervised children, and rightly so. Instead of playing, socializing, sharing time with friends, and learning or exploring new interests, many of these children spend these hours alone, taking care of themselves. Not only are these students often bored and lonely, they are also much less safe than their peers in supervised settings.
|Tim Connors, Superintendent of the Danbury, Connecticut Public Schools, explains the importance of afterschool programs.
It is estimated that as many as seven to fifteen million school-age children leave school for an empty home on any given day. [U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Justice, Working for Children and Families: Safe and Smart Afterschool Programs, April, 2000] These kids face a much greater risk of:
- receiving poor grades
- displaying behavior problems
- using drugs, alcohol, or tobacco
- committing crimes and participating in other high-risk behavior
- being the victim of a crime
- dropping out of school (Safe and Smart Afterschool Programs and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids)
In fact, in a recent Harris poll, more than 50 percent of teachers singled out "children who are left on their own after school" as the primary explanation for students' difficulties in class. [National Education Commission on Time and Learning, Prisoners of Time (Washington, DC; U.S. Department of Education, 1994)] (See the NIOST fact sheet)
|Students and administrators agree that afterschool programs offer an alternative to the kinds of unsupervised time that can lead to unsafe behaviors.
Despite the fast-growing need for these programs, there is a chronic shortage of quality afterschool programs available to the families who need them. Demand for school-based afterschool programs currently outstrips supply at a rate of about two to one. In some urban areas, it is estimated that by the year 2002, the shortage of afterschool programs for school-age children will mean that only one out of every five children who need such programs will be served. [GAO/HEHS-97-95 Welfare Reform and Child Care Supply, May, 1997]
Ellen Gannett responds to the following questions:
Should afterschool programs be mandatory?
Should the focus of an afterschool program be on improving the whole child, rather than on providing babysitting services?