Where are your kids between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.? In a household where both parents work, this question may bring up some feelings of stress. After-school care is a hot topic. Obviously, parents want quality care that’s also affordable, but that’s not always easy to find.
The Afterschool Alliance commissioned a household survey, America After 3PM, to determine the biggest issues parents face in seeking after-school programs. The mission of the organization is to raise awareness about the importance of after-school care and help parents find after-school resources. The 2014 survey took into account responses from 30,000 households and 200 in-depth interviews of Oklahoma families.
The survey, which asked parents of school-aged children how their kids spend the hours between school letting out and parents getting off work, found mixed results in Oklahoma. Although Oklahoma ranks near the top nationally for how satisfied parents are with the social and educational environment of their after-school care, the survey found the demand for after-school programs in Oklahoma far exceeds the supply.
Although Oklahoma’s after-school program participation slipped slightly from 2009, the vast majority of parents who have access to after-school programs have a positive perception of the program they use. In fact, the study showed 94 percent of Oklahoma parents said they were highly satisfied with their child’s after-school program. That puts Oklahoma ahead of the national average, which was 89 percent in 2009 and 2014.
“Oklahomans have made progress creating after-school opportunities for their children and should be proud of what the state has accomplished,” explained Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance.
The availability of after-school programs continues to grow, but currently for every child who participates, there are two more who would like to, the survey found.
“It’s great that we’ve made progress on after-school, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” said Chuck Mills, chairman of the State Chamber of Oklahoma and co-chair of the OK Workforce Youth Council. “The unfortunate reality is that after-school programs in the state reach only a fraction of the children and families who need them.”
Sheryl Lovelady, the executive director of the Oklahoma Afterschool Network, can attest to the success in our state, as well.
“Oklahoma is moving in a great direction in after-school and summer programs,” she said. “Our programs come from a wide range of providers: for-profits, not-for-profits, faith-based organizations and others in the community have created a network to fill the need. But, we need to build a better infrastructure to reach all kids.”
The primary barrier for families is the availability of programs that fit their needs. The gap can be attributed to several factors. Costs associated with after-school care can be prohibitive for many families. Many after-school programs do not qualify as child care subsidy programs which help parents obtain low cost care for their children while they work. Transportation to and from the program and school also can be a problem.
“Most parents in the state who want their child in a program can’t find one that works for them and that needs to change,” Grant said. “For many cities, especially in rural areas, programs have long waiting lists and some cities have no programs at all.”
Oklahoma families often use a variety of after-school solutions. Whether by choice or by necessity, most children spend some portion of the hours after school either in the care of a parent or guardian, in a traditional child care center or with other family members or friends such as a grandparent or neighbor. Although down from 29 percent in 2009, the survey found that 20 percent of Oklahoma students between kindergarten and 12th grade are without adult supervision in the afternoons, that’s a total of 130,367 unsupervised kids.
Grant cautioned that unsupervised children are more likely to engage in risky behaviors. According to a study conducted by the YMCA, kids who are left unsupervised are three times to more likely to enter into at-risk behaviors and are more at risk of dropping out of school altogether. Lovelady added that is especially true for teens. Many Oklahoma communities have had great success building more after-school opportunities.
The impact and importance of quality programs in the community goes well beyond keeping children safe and out of trouble. On average, a child spends seven hours each week in their after-school program, which is about the equivalent of an extra school day. Imagine what your child could accomplish during all that time.
“When you have the extra time, kids can fully explore a project,” Lovelady said. “It is the time when we can connect education and the workforce, helping kids see the relevancies in what they are learning.”
Speaking from his experience with the State Chamber of Oklahoma and OK Workforce Youth Council, Mills added the quality of care as a child can make an impact into adulthood.
“Economic growth in our state depends upon a well-educated and skilled workforce,” he said. “Quality after-school programs are teaching kids the skills necessary to succeed in school and are helping prepare them for the future.”
Grant agreed quality programs now are essential to the future of Oklahoma’s workforce.
“Our kids are always learning wherever they go,” Grant said. “It is important to make sure our kids are learning something positive. Quality after-school programs keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families.”
The survey found that Oklahoma parents agree. After-school programs are more than a place for their child to hang out and be supervised. Parents are looking for after-school programs that offer opportunities for physical activity, homework assistance, opportunities for reading or writing and STEM learning opportunities. Additionally, parents feel after-school programs can help children develop important social and workforce skills like teamwork, leadership and critical thinking.
“We want kids to see it as fun and play but it should be a fun way to reinforce what kids are learning at school,” Grant said. “There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to after-school care. The right program depends on your child.”
In an effort to close the educational achievement gap in many communities, the Oklahoma State Department of Education offers grants for schools and other community organizations to create low-cost or often free after-school programs.
“The grant process is highly competitive,” says Andrea Hohller with the State Department of Education. “There are only so many dollars to go around.”
Organizations looking to start an after-school program can apply for a 21st Learning Center Grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Qualifying programs can get a three-to-five year grant which would provide anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000 toward funding their after school program.
If you are interested in finding an after-school program for your family, the Afterschool Alliance suggests asking these important questions of the program you’re researching:
- Are younger kids mixed with older ages?
- How long has the staff been there?
- What are your resources and community connections?
- What can you offer my child?
[Editor’s Note: Find a guide to after-school programs offered in the metro at www.metrofamilymagazine.com/after-school]