Early Childhood Education

School-Age Care


During the early school-age years, nonparental care during out-of-school time is a reality for millions of children in the United States. School-age programs provide academic and social activities for young school-age children while in a supervised environment during the hours they are not in school. With its dual role of enrichment and supervision, school-age care serves as a bridge between the nonparental child care arrangements of preschool-age children and the more structured school learning environment.

School-age care takes place during out-of-school hours before or after the regular school day, on school breaks, on weekends, and during the summer. The school- age care field often focuses on organized programs for school-age children in the hours before and after school, although care for school-age children is also provided in family child care settings (by both relatives and nonrelatives) and by in-home providers. Other common terms used to describe such care arrangements include out-of-school time, after-school care, school-age child care, extended day, extended services, expanded learning, and youth development activities.

Interest in and use of school-age care programs in the United States has grown in recent years because of factors such as increased female labor force participation, youth crime and risky behavior prevention efforts, concern that schools are not meeting the educational needs of children, and a decreased sense of supportiveness in the neighborhood environment. According to the National Household Education Surveys Program, 20 percent of Kindergarten through eighth-grade children have nonparental care arrangements before school. Nonparental school- age care is even more common in the hours after school, with estimates based on national samples ranging from 50 to 57 percent of school-age children in such arrangements (Kleiner, Nolin, and Chapman, 2004). A 2003 survey of U.S. households found that although 22 million families wanted after-school care for their children, only 6.5 million were participating, indicating that supply may not be meeting demand (Afterschool Alliance, 2004).

In the after-school hours, the most common type of nonparental arrangement is participation in a school- or community-based after-school program. While reported figures range from 11 to 26 percent, the exact percentage of school-age children using such arrangements varies slightly depending on the survey used and the specific ages and backgrounds of the children included in the sample. According to recent surveys, use is most prevalent among younger school-age children (age six to nine), African American children, children with employed parents, children from higher-income families, and children from single-parent homes. Considerable variation in program utilization also exists depending on state of residence. In a comparison of thirteen different states, participation of low-income children in before- or after-school programs ranged from 6 percent in Wisconsin to 17 percent in NewJersey (Sonenstein et al., 2002).

Other types of common nonparental care arrangements for school-age children include care by a relative or nonrelative adult in a family child care home, an in-home provider (e.g., nanny or babysitter), self care, and extracurricular activities used for supervision. Nearly one third (32%) of Kindergarten through eighth-grade children in nonparental arrangements before and/or after school have more than one arrangement, for example, grandmother care before school and school-age program after school (Kleiner et al., 2004).

After-school programs are typically housed in public schools where large cafeterias and gymnasium spaces, as well as ease in transporting children from school to after school, lend themselves to the operation of such programs. Programs are also found in a wide variety of other settings including child care centers, YMCAs, boys and girls clubs, religious institutions, parks and recreation departments, police athletic leagues, and private schools. There is great heterogeneity in after-school program goals, content, and services. However, most programs are open from 3 to 6 pm for 5 days a week with an average enrollment of 65 children. A typical schedule might include snack, homework time, academic activities (e.g., literacy skills training, mentoring, and tutoring), art activities (e.g., arts and crafts, music, dance, adventure education), recreation activities (e.g., outdoor playgrounds, organized sports), and service learning. Rates of participation are often sporadic, with individual children spending an average of 8 to 10 hours per week in a program (Afterschool Alliance, 2004; Kleiner et al., 2004).

Some evidence suggests that many after-school programs are of mediocre quality. For example, in the Making the Most of Out-of-School Time (MOST) evaluation, two thirds of observed programs were judged to be poor to fair in quality (Halpern, 1999). Quality is often hindered by high staff turnover rates, inadequate space, lack of interaction (or in some cases conflict) between the after-school program and the organization housing the program (e.g., public school). To help address the quality of after-school programs, the National AfterSchool Association (a professional organization with 7,000 members and thirty-six state affiliates) developed quality standards in 1998. These standards include thirty-six “keys of quality” in the areas of human relationships; indoor environment; outdoor environment; activities; safety, health, and nutrition; and administration (Roman, 1998). Using these standards, over 550 programs have been accredited in the United States by the National After-School Association as of April 2006.


Costs and Funding for After-School Programs

Costs for running a program vary tremendously, with estimates ranging from $700 to $6,600 annually per child depending on program features such as schedule, staff salaries, program size, and in-kind donations (Halpern et al., 2000). The greatest expense is staff compensation, with costs in this area typically accounting for 65-80 percent of total program operating expenses. Other costs for operating a program include facilities, supplies and equipment, food, capital costs, and infrastructure (including planning and evaluation, program development, licensing, transportation, and technical assistance).

After-school programs are funded through four main sources: parent fees, public money, private funds, and in-kind donations. A large part of funding for afterschool programs typically comes from parent fees (15-25% of revenues), especially in more affluent communities. On average, parents pay $22 per week per child (Afterschool Alliance, 2004).

Federal funds also provide a significant source of revenue for school-age programs. For example, the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, the only federal program solely dedicated to funding after school, often provides funding for the start-up or expansion of after-school programs. Funds from this Department of Education program have increased from $750,000 in 1995 to just under $1 billion in FY 2004. The Child Care and Development Fund, administered through the Department of Health and Human Services, also provides funding to states for many after-school programs and represents a potentially sustainable source of funds for many child care programs. Approximately 35 percent of the $4.6 billion in FY 2003 federal money was spent on school-age children between the ages of 6 and 13. Other sources of federal funds for after-school programs include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (through direct assistance and through transfer of up to 30 percent of funds to state block grants such as the Child Care and Development Fund or Title XX Social Services), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program that provides funding for meals, snacks, and nutrition education for programs serving low-income children.

After-school programs also tap other state, local, and private money to fund their operations. These resources are usually targeted toward direct services such as increasing quality, improving access, or expanding supply, with much smaller provisions made for financing infrastructure (e.g., facilities, professional development, technical assistance). Finally, in-kind contributions can be a significant part of after-school program operations. In-kind donations might include space, utilities, volunteer staff, materials, and tickets to events donated by community organizations (e.g., museums, sports teams).


Outcomes for Children

Research about the impacts of After-School programs on young school-age children has been mixed. A number of studies have demonstrated that participation in these types of programs, particularly those that provide a warm, positive and flexible environment, is associated with better academic grades, social relationships with peers, reading achievement, and emotional adjustment for first-to third-grade children (Mahoney et al., 2005; Pierce et al., 1999; Posner and Vandell, 1994). Similarly, Lauer and colleagues’ meta-analysis examining out-of school time activities indicates that such programs can have small, but positive, effects on reading and mathematic achievement of at-risk children and youth (Lauer et al., 2004). The largest gains in reading improvement were seen in the youngest children (grades K-2). A national evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Center after-school programs (including those for elementary and middle school students), however, found little relation between after-school participation and reading test scores, grades, problematic behaviors, goal setting, team work, or numbers of children in self-care (Dynarski et al., 2004). Findings from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care also suggest no relationship between before- and after-school program participation and cognitive and social development in first grade (NICHD Early Care Research Network, 2004).

Critics, including Kane, Mahoney, and Zigler, contend that evaluations of afterschool programs to date suffer from methodological flaws that make it difficult to know exactly what impact after-school programs really have on child outcomes. Many evaluations rely on quasi-experimental designs in which no control group is included. The quality and appropriateness of comparison groups also varies from study to study. Results from the national evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, despite the use of a strong experimental design using random assignment, have been criticized for other methodological problems including the premature nature of the evaluation (i.e., programs evaluated while still in the early stages of development), cross-over between program and comparison group participants (i.e., comparison group participation in the program), lack of representativeness in the elementary school sites included in the evaluation, lack of data gathered on possible key background and program variables, and reliance on unrealistic outcome measures. Additional research that addresses these methodological challenges is needed to further explore the true impact of school-age program participation on cognitive and social outcomes for children.


After-School Care Providers

After-school care providers include front-line teachers or assistants who work directly with children on a regular basis, as well as center coordinators and directors. Providers tend to work part-time for low wages and few, if any, benefits. These factors, combined with low professional status, a limited career ladder, and lack of a clear professional identity even within the school-age field itself, contribute to the 35-40 percent annual turnover rate.

Currently, no national professional development program exists for training school-age care professionals. Approximately one-half of states in the United States, however, have created or are exploring some form of credentialing for those individuals providing care for school-age children. For example, New York State offers an intensive, in-service credential specifically for school-age staff. Begun in 1998, the NYS School Age Care Credential (NYS SACC) is based on the U.S. Army School Age Care Credential, the first credential created for school-age care providers. The NYS SACC provides standards for training and recognition of staff members based on their ability to meet the unique needs of children aged five to thirteen. Similar to the Child Development Associate Credential for child care providers who work with children from birth through age five, the SACC process includes coursework, portfolio development, and parent feedback, as well as advisement and observation by knowledgeable school-age care professionals. SACC programs are offered throughout the state by local organizations such as Cornell University Cooperative Extension agencies, Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, and community colleges. In the first seven years of the NYS SACC, over 250 school-age care staff have been awarded their credentials.

Further Readings: Afterschool Alliance (2004). America after 3 PM: A household survey on afterschool in America. Available online at www.nmefdn.org/uimages/documents/ CrtiHrsFS.pdf; Dynarski, Mark, Susanne James-Burdumy, Mary Moore, Linda Rosenberg, John Deke, Wendy Mansfield, and Elizabeth Warner (2004). When schools stay open late: the national evaluation of the 21st century community learning centers program, new findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education/Institute of Education Services, National Center for Education Statistics; Halpern, Robert, Sharon Deich, and Carol Cohen. (2000, May). Financing after-school programs. Available online at www.financeproject.org/financing_afterschool_programs.htm; Halpern, Robert (1999). After-school programs for low-income children: Promise and challenges. The Future of Children 9(2), 81-95; Kleiner, Brian, Mary Jo Nolin, and Chris Chapman (2004). Before- and after-school care, programs and activities of children in kindergarten through eighth grade. 2001. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics; Lauer, Patricia A., Motoko Akiba, Stephanie B. Wilkerson, Helen S. Apthorp, David Snow, and Mya Martin-Glenn (2004). The effectiveness of out-of-school time strategies in assisting low-achieving students in reading and mathematics. Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning; Mahoney, Joseph L., Heather Lord, and Erica Carryl (2005). An ecological analysis of after-school program participation and the development of academic performance and motivational attributes for disadvantaged children. Child Development 76(4), 811-825; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network (2004). Are child developmental outcomes related to before- and after-school care arrangements? Results from the NICHD study of early child care. Child Development 75(1), 280-295; Pierce, Kim M., Jill V. Hamm, and Deborah L. Vandell (1999). Experiences in after-school programs and children’s adjustment in first-grade classrooms. Child Development 70(3), 756-767; Posner, Jill D., and Deborah L. Vandell (1994). Low-income children’s after-school care: Are there beneficial effects of after-school programs? Child Development 65, 440-456; Roman, Janette (1998). The NSACA standards for quality school-age care. Boston: National School-Age Care Alliance; Sonenstein, Freya L., Gary J. Gates, Stefanie Schmidt, and Natalya Bolshun (2002, May). Primary child care arrangements of employed parents: Findings from the 1999 national survey of America’s families. Occasional Paper Number 59. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

Lisa McCabe