School-age Care and OST: a Conversation About the OST Workforce

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Streit-HeadshotTony Streit, principal investigator for National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment spoke with Youth Today’s Resource Hub editor Sara Hill about today’s out-of-school-time professional workforce and the connection between child care and OST.

Launched in October 2015 by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Office of Child Care (OCC), NCASE is part of a new integrated Early Childhood Training and Technical Assistance system. Its goal is to increase access to high-quality after-school and summer learning for school-age children in low-income families in order to contribute to their overall development and academic achievement.

Youth Today: Tell me about NCASE, and some of its goals.

TS: We want to help people to understand the importance of the role of school-age care within the domain of out-of-school time. There doesn’t seem to be an awareness of how child care funding can be used for after-school and summer care, where funds are going and how they support child care services.    Some of our goals are to examine strategies to increase access to these services and the use of child care funds for afterschool and summer programs.

As well, we want to elevate quality across the board by sharing quality efforts and promising practices where there is innovation and indicators of success. … We are looking for models [nationally] for increasing access and improving quality in a range of settings to have the broadest impact.

YT: How are child care funds distributed, and what portion goes to OST?

TS: It can be very challenging to track how Child Care Development Fund dollars are dispersed through the states and out to various providers. The states are currently submitting comprehensive plans to ACF, and many of the state after-school networks have been working to help inform plans.

The states also report annually back to ACF through quality performance reports. What we’ve learned since launching the center is that we will need to engage in a great deal of forensic work to determine quantitatively and qualitatively what’s going on at the state level.

The changes ushered in by the Reauthorization Act of 2014 provide an opportunity to shine a light on what’s often been overlooked in terms of support for OST. Funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program has been so dominant within the field, but we hope to show through our work that ACF’s contribution is just as significant and a critical funder of after-school and summer learning.

YT: What are your views on the state of the out-of-school time workforce?

TS: One tension I’ve noted in my years working on OST is that people often want to compare youth workers to the teaching workforce, but the dynamic just isn’t the same — in terms of the settings, the dosage of programming, the role that staff can play.

A large percentage of the OST workforce might not be compensated; they might be volunteers. So, the OST field has to approach professionalizing the workforce from a different angle. There are some foundational skills, though, that are essential to train OST workers in. How does the field get their workforce to understand the stages of development for young people and ways to facilitate meaningful learning in the out-of-school time space?

Here in Chicago, people have been doing this type of programming for over 100 years, beginning with the first settlement houses. Through this work, the OST field knows what children need and how to complement traditional academic learning. It certainly takes training, and you can’t just expect someone right off the street will know how to do that.

Also, if the field is thinking about how to move the bar, they have to be looking at compensation and retention and career ladders. Leaders in the field need to advocate for living wages and a career path that’s about quality and preparation, as well as keeping workers in the field rather than moving on to other opportunities.

YT: What efforts will move OST workforce development?   

TS: Leaders in the field need to be on the same page about the supports and professional development that staff need on an ongoing basis — weekly, not just at an annual conference or online training.  Providers and program leads are the ones who make the call for how professional development is rolled out. If they’re looking at quick, turnkey training solutions that only focus on content, they may not be addressing issues of recruitment, retention, instruction, which should be developed collaboratively as a team. … Also, we need to instill in staff the importance of what they’re doing — that they, in fact, have a career, that they should own up to their own development and drive it forward.

When allocating resources, it is very important to have support not only for programs but also all of the developmental work that it takes to create a program and support staff. For instance, the work I’ve done with Ellen Gannett at National Institute for Out of School Time and with Karyl Resnick who is the 21st CCLC lead in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in Massachusetts is a good example.  Karyl really understands the importance of ongoing professional development. A number of years ago, she refashioned her request for proposals so that grantees are required to do project-based learning (PBL) if they want a 21st CCLC grant, and then Karyl also funds professional development to support staff in that area. And it wasn’t just for a couple years: Karyl has consistently supported PBL for some 12 years now as the mechanism for creating quality after-school programs in Massachusetts.

That said, it is very hard to run a good program, and it’s still a revolving door. People still come and go, but at least when you go into a site in Massachusetts you can expect to see staff framing their activities to be youth-centered and more dynamic.

YT: What are some of the activities NCASE has in mind for OST workforce professionalization?

TS:  Well, we are in our launch year right now where we are focusing on listening to the field and discovering needs. It’s been enlightening because rather than say “we’re going to train you in X-Y-Z,” we’re doing a lot of needs assessment, talking with National Afterschool Association affiliates, folks in Washington, state agencies and their networks.

A few things have emerged as a critical area of need, which will shape our activities. One key issue has been the Reauthorization of CCDF [the Child Care Development Fund] and how to apply the new regulations. Later in the year when all the state plans are submitted, we’ll be doing technical assistance and training around those plans as it relates to school-age care. …  Another critical area of need is related to licensing and how the rules are applied from state by state.

YT: What is your vision for your technical assistance in the area of licensing?

TS: We first hosted two facilitated discussions in a webinar format. It was an open conversation around the key issues in licensing. The audience was primarily Office of Child Care state agency leads but also some of their partners and state networks.

From that discussion several issues surfaced, and we’re launching a set of peer learning groups who will have regular conversations around these issues. These groups can include staff from child care resource and referral agencies and state school-age networks. We chose to start with this topic because it was one of the primary areas of need expressed as we heard from stakeholders. …

We are also going to continue focusing on quality and summer learning. Recently, leadership in Washington is much more conscious of the importance of summer learning, and it’s seen as a bridge between early learning and school-age programs. …

Finally, it’s important to emphasize that early childhood and school-age care supports working families.  For 21st CCLC, it’s often framed as reinforcing school-day learning. In the child care space it’s really about enabling families to work. It’s critical to our country to have quality, affordable care that allows people to have jobs, knowing their children are safe and ready to learn. The cost of child care is huge, and on a national level, affordable care is one of the key factors that keeps the economy going.

Tony Streit is a nationally recognized expert in youth development, media education, out-of-school time and informal STEM learning. Streit serves as senior project director at the international nonprofit Education Development Center, Inc. Since 2002, Streit has directed EDC’s YouthLearn Initiative, a broad array of research, practices and curricular strategies on community-based, contextual learning. Streit and his team provide professional development, program materials, research, evaluation and technical assistance to organizations and educators. In addition to his project work, Streit also serves as director of the EDC Chicago office. Before joining EDC, Streit was co-founder and co-director of Street-Level Youth Media, a Chicago organization recognized for innovation in youth development and digital learning. 

This conversation is the first in a three-part series about the OST workforce.