Report: Millions of U.S. Children Unsupervised During After-School Hours

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Demand for after-school programs far exceeds supply in the United States, particularly among African-American and Hispanic families, a new report says.

America After 3PM,” released Thursday by the Washington-based Afterschool Alliance, said that for every child enrolled in such a program, the parents of two other children would enroll if a program were available.

The report, based on a survey of 30,000 households, said the parents of 19.4 million children who are not in an after-school program would enroll their kids if a program were available. That’s up from parents of 18.5 million children in 2009 and parents of 15.3 million children in 2004, the first year the alliance released an “America After 3 PM” report.

“For those of you who, like me, are parents, we know very well the importance of after-school programs in our lives,” Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant said in a telephone news conference.

“These programs keep our children safe. They inspire them to learn and they provide invaluable help to working families. They’re literally a lifeline to working parents, and they give us peace of mind during the hours of after school and before we get home from work.”

The report said both the percentage and the total number of children involved in after-school programs have climbed over the past decade, and today 23 percent of families have at least one child enrolled in an after-school program.

In 2014, 10.2 million children (18 percent) participate in such programs, up from 8.4 million (15 percent) in 2009 and 6.5 million (11 percent) in 2004.

The alliance got some high-profile backing from former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the founder of After-School All-Stars, an after-school program that serves nearly 100,000 middle school students in seven states, and this year’s honorary chairman of the alliance.

“I became a fanatic about after-school programs,” Schwarzenegger said. “This is my love, right along with being on a crusade for fitness and health.”

Schwarzenegger said after-school programs help keep kids out of trouble, particularly during what he called the “danger zone” between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. when he said many youths use drugs or alcohol, become involved in gangs or have sex.

On any given school day, the report said, 11.3 million American children — or one in five — are without supervision between those hours. That number has dropped from 15.1 million in 2009 and 14.3 million in 2004.

Syracuse, N.Y., Police Chief Frank L. Fowler said that providing after-school programs helps keep youths out of trouble, which in turn keeps costs to the public down.

“It’s startling to me that there are twice as many children out there in search of a program as there are children who found one,” he said.

“I spent half of my life in law enforcement, and it’s clear to me that the way to help young people succeed is to invest in supports that help them along the way. It’s more effective. It’s certainly cheaper than paying later when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law.”

The report also found:

  • Unmet demand for after-school programs is much greater among African-American and Hispanic households: Parents of 60 percent of African-American and 57 percent of parents of Hispanic children not in an after-school program would enroll if one were available. That compares with 35 percent of the parents of white children not enrolled in an after-school program.
  • Demand for after-school programs is much higher among low-income families than other families. Half the parents of children from low-income households not participating in an after-school program would enroll if one were available
  • More than eight in 10 parents of children in after-school programs said the programs help them keep their jobs, and 75 percent of parents in the programs say they give them peace of mind about their children’s well-being.
  • More than eight in 10 parents say they support increased public funding for after-school programs.

The Afterschool Alliance has consistently lobbied for more funding for the programs, which receive support from federal, state  and local governments as well as corporations, philanthropies and private donors.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) initiative provides the only federal money dedicated exclusively to supporting after-school programs.

Jen Rinehart, vice president for research and policy at the alliance, told Youth Today Thursday that the CCLC initiative is now funded at $1.149 billion per year.