One out of two children in California who need subsidized access to after school care because their parents are working and earning low wages are at greater risk of violent crime, drug use and other dangers due to the unavailability of adult supervision, according to a new report.
The report released by Children Now, a child policy and advocacy organization, estimates that 1.2 million children ages five to fourteen in low-income families need subsidized after school care. Because only about 600,000 slots are subsidized through state and federal funds, just half of the children in need can enroll in an after school program.
The report counted children in families where both parents or a single parent worked at least 30 hours a week, earned less than $32,000 a year and who were not cared for by relatives. It did not include children whose parents are unemployed or who are unable to work. Changes in the economy mean that fathers and mothers are working three and five hours more each week, respectively, than they were two decades ago.
"We know that quality after school programs provide a sanctuary for children and boost school achievement, yet the state has not addressed the severe supply and demand crunch across California," said Amy Dominguez-Arms, Vice President of Children Now. "We could send 100,000 more children to a good after school program each year for the same amount of money the state is spending every two days on electricity," she said.
The hours from 3pm to 6pm make up the peak time for juvenile crime; those are also the hours when children are most likely to be the victims of crime. And research has shown that young adolescents left unsupervised for 11 or more hours per week are twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than those under adult supervision. In addition, many after school programs have been shown to improve academic performance and school attendance, as well as lead to better behavior in school.
Add One/Children Now After School Report
"After School Care for Children: Challenges for California" also reports on evaluations documenting the benefits of various after school programs, such as:
An evaluation of the After School Learning and Safe Neighborhoods Partnerships Program, the state-funded program serving about 95,000 students, found that program participants are achieving much higher scores on standardized tests, attending classes more frequently and reporting they feel safer in the after school program than they did before.
A ten-year analysis of the "LA's BEST" after school program, serving 13,000 students in Los Angeles, concluded that program participation of four years or more is significantly related to positive achievement on standardized tests in reading, math and language arts.
A broad coalition of organizations is supporting legislation (AB 298-Steinberg) that would increase the number of subsidized slots by 100,000 in the budget year, a figure that represents a first step in expanding after school program capacity to meet demand. The coalition includes sheriffs, police chiefs, religious groups and others.
"Children's safety and well-being must not be put on hold," said Ming Leung, Director of Policy for Children Now. "The governor and the legislature should act this month to protect our children's future," he said, referring to the state's annual budget process.
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