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Statement on After School Programs by Emil Parker
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and External Affairs
Administration for Children and Families
Department of Health and Human Services

Before the Congressional Children's Caucus
October 28, 1999

Co-chairmen Ros-Lehtinen and Jackson Lee, and distinguished members of the Congressional Children's Caucus, thank you for inviting me to appear today to share in this important forum. The Administration is committed to fostering positive child and youth development through safe and quality after-school care, as well as specialized services for vulnerable populations. It is particularly a pleasure to appear on a panel with the Departments of Education and Justice since we have been working in close collaboration to address the needs of school-age children and youth. I'd like to use my time today to discuss what we know about the needs of youth and their families and to outline our initiatives to strengthen the availability and affordability of quality after-school care and services for youth transitioning to independence.

Quality before- and after-school programs enrich the lives of our children and youth. They are also an essential support for working parents who need safe, reliable care for their children. But for too many families, particularly low-income families, after-school programs are either unavailable or unaffordable. The GAO estimates that in some urban areas the current number of programs for school-age children will meet as little as 25 percent of the demand by 2002. But creating quality programs and helping families to afford them require significant resources. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) plays a key role by providing subsidies for low-income families and by funding quality improvement efforts. However, due to limited resources, only a small portion of eligible families receive child care subsidies. To improve the future for our children and youth, as well as support working families, we must act now to provide additional Federal investments for child care subsidies as well as for the Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Child and Youth Development

Childhood and adolescence are times of transition. As Jacquelynne Eccles, University of Michigan, has documented in her work, children moving toward adulthood undergo dramatic biological, psychological, and social changes. Young people experiencing these changes and developing a desire for independence who are not given positive outlets for growth may find potentially damaging alternatives--including truancy, dropping out of school, use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco, and other risky behaviors. Some of our children are particularly vulnerable. Poverty, violence, and hopelessness in many neighborhoods threaten young people’s well-being and make developmental opportunities scarcer. For example, crime and violence affect young people’s ability to move about their neighborhoods safely to participate in after-school activities.

The good news is that over the last five or six years, youth risk taking has been declining. However, this news cannot make us complacent; not only are the rates still high, but as Karen Pittman of the International Youth Foundation points out Aproblem-free is still not fully prepared.@ Pittman advocates that youth development is the best means of preparing young people, while serving as the most effective strategy for the prevention of youth problems. She has defined youth development as Aan ongoing process in which all young people are engaged and invested, and through which young people seek ways to meet their basic physical and social needs and to build competencies they perceive as necessary for survival and success.

In June of this year, the Department published a report entitled Positive Youth Development in the United States , which defines the characteristics of youth development programs that effectively support young people in this time of transition. This report also shows that effective programs do more than prevent risky behavior; they promote such things as the social, emotional, cognitive and moral development of young people.

A 1999 report written by James Hyman and published by the Casey Foundation entitled Spheres of Influence, points out that in addition to a broad array of services, a comprehensive strategy must include Aopportunities for constructive use of time, meaningful experiences, and the support of caring adults (family members and mentors, as well as others).@ Most importantly, we must include young people themselves and make them active participants in the strategies that we develop.

Quality After-School Programs: Meeting Needs and Improving Outcomes for Children and Youth

Quality before- and after-school programs are an essential part of this youth development strategy. School-age care is sponsored by a variety of groups, from local school boards to community-based organizations, and is provided in a range of settings, including schools, child care facilities, community recreation centers, and family child care homes. Despite this variation, we know that the components of quality before- and after-school programs include linkages between after-school and regular school programs, children’s participation in age appropriate learning activities, hiring of qualified staff, low student-staff ratios, involvement of parents, program evaluation, and coordination with other community organizations.

To have positive results, programs need to be more than just a safe place to pass time. Quality programs require resources and trained, culturally-competent staff who are committed to providing challenging and age-appropriate developmental opportunities. In quality programs, young people are nurtured by caring adults, given opportunities to build new skills and interests, and receive support and protection during challenging times.

Research shows that school-age children who attend quality programs have better emotional adjustment, peer relations, self-esteem, and conduct in school compared to children not in programs (Posner & Vandell, 1994; Baker & Witt, 1995, Witt 1997). This means students learn to work with others and better handle conflict, skills that will benefit them throughout life. Studies also show that, due to more learning opportunities and enrichment activities, children in quality programs receive better grades and demonstrate improved academic achievement.

Studies also show that quality after-school programs can help prevent crime, juvenile delinquency and violent victimization. Almost a third of all juvenile offenses occur on school days between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., a time when young people are out of school (U.S. Department of Justice). Children are also at much greater risk of being a victim of violent crime during the hours after school. When an after-school center recently opened in Northeast Baltimore, the Baltimore Police Department reported a decrease in juvenile arrests, armed robberies and assaults in the neighborhood, as well as a 44 percent drop in the risk of children becoming victims of crime.

Another example of a model program that provides positive youth development is the Beacons Initiative, which is funded and managed by the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development. The Beacons Initiative is comprised of school-based community centers offering after-school programs, as well as extended programming for children, youth and families in the evenings, on weekends and during the summer. With Beacons operating in school districts throughout the city, the program strives to create an environment within each school that promotes youth development. This is accomplished by:

  • creating opportunities for caring relationships to form between young people and adults; providing adult support and supervision throughout the day;
  • offering high-quality activities that stimulate curiosity and creativity, including educational enrichment, cultural arts, recreation, career education and community service;
  • setting high behavioral expectations and standards for youth; and
  • creating opportunities for young people to demonstrate leadership within their schools and in the community.

The program is having a positive impact. Communities have noticed less graffiti, a growing number of youth attend the program, and parents' participation is increasing. Schools have also seen higher attendance and a reduction in the number of suspensions and fighting that takes place. Based on this success, the cities of Oakland, Savannah, Denver, Minneapolis and San Francisco are replicating the program.

Meeting the Needs of Working Parents

Quality after-school programs not only meet the needs of children and youth, but also meet the needs of working parents. Mothers’ participation in the work force has increased dramatically in recent years. In 1998, 78 percent of mothers with children between the ages of six and 17 were in the paid labor force, up from 54.9 percent in 1975. Looking ahead, the continued strength of the economy and the ongoing welfare reform efforts suggest continued increases in parents’ work participation.

Over 22 million school-age children have working parents (based on 1993 SIPP data from the Bureau of the Census). Yet children spend only about 20 percent of their waking hours in school (Miller, 1997). The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that parents are at work for 20 to 25 hours per week longer than their children are in school. Therefore, in order to work, parents need safe, quality and affordable care for their children.

Unfortunately, for many families, particularly low-income families, quality care is not available or it is not affordable. The most frequently mentioned barrier to participation is parents’ inability to pay the tuition and fees programs must charge to offer quality services. National survey data show that child care expenses are often the second or third largest item in a low-income working family’s household budget. Other barriers include shortage of available places in child care programs, shortage of high-quality programs, inadequate facilities, inaccessibility to public transportation, high staff turnover, and limited hours (i.e., no evening or weekend hours). Access for low-income working families is made more complicated by the likelihood that these mothers will work non-day shifts--that is evenings, weekends or rotating shifts.

The $3 billion Child Care and Development Block Grant provides critical help in the form of subsidies for low-income families, but it is reaching far too few families. Last Tuesday, Secretary Shalala released a report that showed only 1.5 million children, 15 percent of the eligible population, actually received child care subsidies funded by CCDBG in an average month in 1998. Those 1.5 million children represent 15 percent of eligible infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children who meet State income eligibility requirements.

Since quality programs are out of reach for many families, parents are forced to make difficult choices. Some families are forced to put together makeshift child care arrangements that risk compromising the quality and safety of their children’s care. Although it is difficult to estimate, approximately 5 million school-age children spend time as latchkey kids without adult supervision during a typical week. (Miller, 1995). The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice estimate that about 35 percent of twelve-year-olds are left by themselves regularly while their parents are at work. This is not only lonely and potentially dangerous for the child, but it is stressful for parents and makes it difficult for them to perform well on the job.

Other families are forced to skimp on fundamental living expenses such as food, clothing, shelter and health insurance, or to stop working entirely. Studies of families on waiting lists for child care subsidies find that these families often reduce their work hours or do not work at all, are more likely to receive public assistance, go into debt, lose their health insurance and declare bankruptcy. For example, a North Carolina study found that unemployed parents waiting for a child care subsidy were seven times as likely to use three or more types of public assistance as were employed parents with a subsidy. According to a Seattle study, 57 percent of wait-listed families used up savings to pay for child care, while 13 percent dropped their health insurance.

Conversely, two recent studies suggest that enhanced funding for child care subsidies increases employment rates and earnings for low and moderate-income parents. A study of the relationship between child care funding, employment and earnings in Miami-Dade County, Florida found that boosting child care funding increases the probability that current and former welfare recipients will find paid employment. Similarly, a Massachusetts study found that greater investment in child care subsidies results in higher employment rates for current and former TANF recipients.

Child Care and Development Block Grant

My agency, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), administers the Child Care and Development Block Grant. CCDBG funds flow to States, who provide help for parents by subsidizing care of the parent’s choice -- with a family member, neighbor, family child care home, child care center, or after-school program. This assistance helps hundreds of thousands of working families pay for quality care for their school-age children, enabling the parents to work and helping the children to learn and grow.

In addition to the subsidies, funds are also used for quality-improvement initiatives. For example, in New Hampshire, CCDBG funding is used to help fund PlusTime New Hampshire, a private, non-profit agency with a board of Directors that includes diverse representation from the public and private sectors. PlusTime offers free start-up support and technical assistance for communities that are developing and improving school-age programming, as well as ongoing training for providers.

South Dakota has used CCDBG funds to make grants available that support the development of before- and after-school programs. The intent of the grants is to assist communities with start-up funds to develop programs that not only provide safe havens for school-age children, but also provide structured recreational and enrichment activities allowing them to explore their creative potential.

Therefore, while the CCDBG helps families to afford quality child care, it also helps programs that serve low-income parents to invest in quality. In conjunction with other resources, such as the 21st Century Learning Centers, the CCDBG helps States and communities improve the quality, availability and affordability of care for school-age children.

More Resources are Needed

While the Child Care and Development Block Grant is a flexible and effective way of getting critically needed help to parents, as I noted earlier, only a small portion of eligible families receive subsidies. There are simply not enough resources to meet the need. Faced with scarce dollars and the enormous need for child care, many States are forced to make policy choices that focus assistance on certain families while leaving out other parents who are struggling to hold on to a modest job without turning to welfare for help. While the federal statute allows States to serve families with incomes up to 85 percent of the State median income, only nine States actually set their eligibility limits that high. As a result, in some States, families earning as little as $18,000 are not eligible for any help with child care costs. States also stretch dollars by setting lower payment rates to providers, which could limit families’ ability to access quality care, or by requiring co-payments that are prohibitively high for many low and moderate-income families.

Even given the low eligibility levels that they have adopted, States across the country report extensive waiting lists. For example, this Spring, California had a waiting list of 200,000 children. Texas had 30,000 to 35,000 children on its list, while Florida had over 26,000 children.

There is no way for States and communities to meet these demands without a major federal investment. President Clinton has proposed an historic child care initiative. The proposal includes an expansion of the Child Care and Development Block Grant by $7.5 billion over five years for increased support for working families. The current budget debate is extremely important for this country's children, youth and working families.

The Senate-passed version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill includes over $800 million in additional funding for CCDBG in FY 2001 (the program usually received advance appropriation). The Administration supports the Senate level of funding for CCDBG, which would represent a significant down payment on the President's initiative. Failure to provide this funding would deny hundreds of thousands of children, including school-aged children, access to quality programs. At the same time, we support expanded funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, as proposed by the President, to increase the supply of after-school care.

Addressing the Needs of Vulnerable Youth

In addition to providing positive out of school experiences for all young people through high quality after-school programming, the youth development model is also critical to meeting the needs of the most vulnerable youth in our society, including those who have run away, are homeless or are aging out of foster care. In ACF, we operate several programs that serve youth populations whose needs go beyond traditional after-school activities. For instance, our Family and Youth Services Bureau funds programs that reach out to youth living on the streets and that provide shelter for runaway and homeless youth. These programs help to provide a safe alternative to the streets, offer counseling and support, and help to reunify youth with their families whenever possible. For young people who cannot rejoin their parents, the Transitional Living Program provides supervised housing, life skills training, vocational training, and other support services to homeless youth ages 16-21 to help them become self-sufficient. The program recognizes that young people not only need assistance dealing with the problems in their lives, but also opportunities to nurture positive relationships, skills and interests. The Transitional Living Program allows youth to complete their education, learn practical skills and develop positive relationships with mentors and peers, while living in a safe and supported environment. Recognizing the importance of this program to very vulnerable youth, the President's budget has proposed a 33 percent increase in funding in FY 2000.

The Administration has also proposed legislation to expand the Independent Living Program which provides youth aging out of foster care with educational, vocational and basic skills training, counseling, mentoring and other supports. Our proposal also focused attention on young people ages 18 - 21 who have been emancipated from foster care by calling for continued access to health care and transitional supports to enable young adults to secure safe housing once they leave the foster care system. We are pleased that the House has already passed legislation that, similar to our proposal, increases funding for the Independent Living Program, encourages the States to provide Medicaid coverage to youth emancipated from foster care and authorizes expenditures for room and board for these youth. We were encouraged that the Senate held a hearing two weeks ago on a companion measure, and we hope that legislation addressing the needs of this special population of vulnerable youth will move forward soon.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about the importance of quality youth programming during non-school hours. Before- and after-school programs are a key means of fostering the positive development of all our young people, and we have seen that programs for our most vulnerable youth are critical to their health, safety and ability to successfully transition into adulthood. Quality after-school programs are also an important support for working parents, and particularly low-income families, and help to strengthen our communities. But providing quality care requires resources, and current investments are simply not meeting the need. I appreciate the Children’s Caucus’ interest in this issue, recognizing that children continue to need our support as they grow. I look forward to working with you to provide that support as we move ahead on this issue.

That concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions at this time.

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