YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Beacons Among Nation’s Outstanding After-School Programs

Jennifer Durrence
January 1, 1998

It has been more than nine months since Kristin Lisk, 15, and her younger sister, Kati,12, were abducted after getting off of school buses in this pleasant bedroom community of 78,000, halfway between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Va.

Their bodies were found in a river 40 miles south of the nation's capital. Just a few months earlier, another teenager, Sofia Silva, 16, was kidnapped from her home eight miles from the Lisk residence and killed. The killer, or killers, is still at large.

The need for after-school care was the topic of intense discussion after the murders in an area that has 6,300 youths aged 12 to 17. But efforts to open a teen center have moved slowly. Mary Lee Carter, a member of the county board of supervisors, put it this way: "There were other projects that [had precedence] before this — the fire station and renovation of the schools."

Money for youth after-school programs was hard to come by; even though in Spotsylvania, juvenile arrest figures soared in the last five years from 16 (per 100,000) to 109. [The peak hours for teenage crime, and pregnancies, are just after school.]
Yet after-school programs were not a high priority issue. Not in local government or on the national level.

Finally, though, the teen center is done. It will open in an old school building once the occupancy permits are secured. But it will only be open on weekends and recreation will be limited, at least for now, to not much more than TV and video games.

Why, even in a town which suffered such a national trauma, has it taken so long to get so little done for youths? And why has it been so difficult around the country to obtain adequate funding for after-school youth programs?

Clearly, the need is urgent if Bureau of Census statistics are believed. The bureau says that 24 million children, aged 5 to 14, are in need of care during their out-of-school time, a population that is expected to grow with recent changes in welfare laws. The FBI reports that from 1988 to 1992, juvenile arrests for violent crime increased by 50 percent, even at a time when the crime rate for adults was dropping. A 1990 University of California study found that unsupervised children are at a significantly higher risk of truancy, stress, receiving poor grades and substance abuse.

The tepid response of government is nothing new. The Carnegie Corporation of New York, in a landmark study five years ago, strongly criticized federal youth policies, contending "the opportunity for reaching youth is immense but that promise is largely unfulfilled. We need more outreach, training organization and more funds."

Now things are changing. One big reason: President Bill Clinton has become interested in the issue.

"I have been listening to the First Lady talk about this (child care issue) for more than 25 years now," he says, "and it may be that I will finally be able to participate in at least a small fraction of what I have been told for a long time I should be doing."

Clinton is the first president to hold a White House Conference on Child Care. And in his State of the Union address this month, he will present a child care plan "to improve access and affordability and to help ensure the safety of child care in America."

He told the White House conference last October, "We'll never be the kind of country we ought to be unless we believe that every child counts and that every child ought to have a chance to make the most of his or her God-given abilities."

Clinton in a Quandary

But what programs work — and who should get the funding? Clinton concedes that's a tough one.

"One of the things that I constantly deal with here is trying to determine who should do what — what we can do and make a difference," he said.

Clinton is particularly enthusiastic about a Boston approach to combat juvenile crime. "The whole juvenile justice system has been geared to be warm and responsive," he noted. Juvenile probation officers make house calls with police officers. And community groups walk in the streets in the afternoon to, basically, almost pick the kids up and give them things to do and get them involved with things. As far as I know, it's the only major city in America where nobody under 18 has been killed by a gun in two years now. But it's not rocket science. It's a systematic attempt to take personal responsibility for all these children after school." (Two months after Clinton praised Boston for staving off juvenile homicides, 16-year-old Eric Pauling was shot outside his girlfriend’s house in what police said appeared to be an argument between two teen groups.)

One necessity, not only in Boston but, throughout the country, Clinton believes, is to have trained caregivers.

He is proposing a $250 million scholarship fund for child care staffs.

"Too many caregivers don't have the training they need to provide the best possible care,” he says.” Those who do are rarely compensated with higher wages."

Clinton's plan will help college students earn degrees if they remain in the child care field for a year. Caregivers who complete their training will receive a raise.

Clinton also proposes a tax credit for parents with child care expenses and a tax credit for companies opening child care centers for employees. He also wants an increase in federal funding to states to subsidize child care.

Parents Can't Pay

Whatever is done will require financial aid for parents of participants, according to the National Before and After-School Program Study. The report says that parents just cannot afford to pay even the small fee many programs require. The study found that 83 percent of 50,000 school-age child care programs depend on parent fees.

Michelle Seligson, executive director of the National Institute of Out-of-School Time, warns the president there are other problems to confront in developing quality after-school programs:

  • While there is widespread agreement on standards, quality remains uneven.
  • It is more and more difficult to recruit staff because salaries are low and turnover is high.
  • Just who gets to operate the program can be a source of contention. Some school boards want to join with community organizations as partners but others resist.
  • Families whose children have special needs, rural families and parents with middle school children are underserved.

The Institute and the Corporation for National Service have just published a "how to" manual outlining some of the key factors in developing a quality program, such as creating low child-staff ratios, a sensitive and caring staff and a safe and healthy environment.

"The single most important feature in an after-school program is the staff," says Seligson. "And that means people who have been trained, who are prepared to work in these informal learning environments with kids."

Concordia University of St. Paul is the first college in the country to offer upper-level academic programs in school-age care. Some 54 students are pursuing bachelor's or master's degrees at Concordia and 68 other students are enrolled in certificate programs, ranging from special needs to site leadership. All students are already working in the school-age care field as program directors or trainers for the state or direct care providers.
Clinton also sees service as a solution to the staff issue. Funding for national service programs will increase $68 million this year with $64 million of that increase going to the America Reads Initiative. This month Clinton is submitting a proposal for reauthorization of the program for the next five years.

Many organizations have been using volunteers for years. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, for example, have their own manual on program planning and management, performance reviews of volunteers and program evaluation.

A $26 million initiative, called Web of Support, will give more attention to rural families. It will offer programs such as homework centers and arts and music to poor children in 40 rural and urban communities. By 2001, the initiative will target 100 more communities with a goal of reaching 550,000 at-risk children. A $1 million pilot program in Appalachia, reaches 8,000 children. Grades have improved and parents got involved.
Here are other programs around the nation:

  • Beacons of New York City — Supported by the Fund for the City of New York, the school-based community centers, started in 1991, provide a range of services to youth and their families, including educational assistance, job preparation, social services and recreational leadership. There are now 40 Beacons serving 12,000 youth and community residents daily. They are open at least six days a week from morning to 10-11 p.m. Each Beacon receives its core funding of $395,000 from the City of New York. Individual Beacons report higher school attendance for youth in their programs and higher test scores for youth in Beacon classes. Parental involvement increased to 90 percent. Suspensions decreased due to conflict resolution alternatives. Now Beacons are expanding with $1 million in grants each from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund to four new cities: Savannah, Oakland, Minneapolis and Denver.
  • United Way — Seven local United Ways received $400,000 grants to expand the Bridge to Success after-school programs in public schools operated in partnerships with community-based organizations.
  • Three community organizations, United Way of Salt Lake City and YMCAs in Boston and Long Beach, Calif., received $300,000 each to create extended service schools where social work students work in public schools with youth workers. Fordham University received almost $500,000 to develop its model with the Children's Aid Society in these communities.
  • West Philadelphia Improvement Corps — University of Pennsylvania faculty and students work in public schools. They have received $932,000 to extend the program to Birmingham, Ala.; Cincinnati, Ohio and Lexington, Ky.
  • DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund — Provided $6.5 million for the Institute of Out-of-School-Time initiative, "Making the Most-of-Out-of-School Time." In three cities — Boston, Chicago, and Seattle — the initiative brings together youth serving agencies, parents, officials, colleges, religious institutions and public schools to pool resources and create leadership to expand services across communities. Planned are participation in the accreditation system, development of college course work in school-age care and development of funding.
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America — Serve 2.6 million youth a year in 1,850 clubs. Boys & Girls Clubs have a total of 88,000 volunteers. The club in Sante Fe provides out-of-school programming for children and youth, ages 6 to 17, in a central facility in Santa Fe and five satellite sites. Youth, mainly Hispanic or Native American, receive free or inexpensive training in arts and crafts and athletics. Program officials say the crime rate in the county housing the clubs has dropped 50 percent. Boys & Girls Clubs in public housing also show results. In a 1991 study, public housing sites with Boys & Girls Clubs, compared to those without, had 13 percent fewer juvenile crimes and 22 percent less drug activity. Today, there are 320 clubs in public housing reaching more than 100,000 kids.
  • YMCA — The YMCA is the largest nongovernmental provider of child care. More than 1 in 10 children in school-age care are in a YMCA program. Y facilities offer game rooms, pools, gyms and craft classes. Parents are encouraged to participate through family nights and volunteer programs. A majority of the $413 million spent on its child care programs in 1996 went to school-age care.


YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Beacons Among Nation’s Outstanding After-School Programs: Clinton’s Thoughts on Child Care

Durrence, Jennifer. "YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Beacons Among Nation’s Outstanding After-School Programs." target="_blank">Youth Today, January/February 1998, p. 16.

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