Photo depicting a Black girl with braids sitting at a table in a classroom at a primary school writing or drawing in a notebook.

OPINION | After-School Programs Are Vital for Children but Still Out of Reach for Most Parents

by Gennette Cordova

As a child growing up in Seattle in the ʼ90s, I had the great fortune of receiving a wide range of non-familial nurturing, from the Miller Jet coaches to the Leschi Elementary School teachers. At Garfield Community Center, where I spent years enrolled in the after-school program and the summer camp, I always knew I had eyes on me. Eyes of adults who both cared about my well-being and would be quick to let my mom know if I was out of line.

When I became an adult who was responsible for children, I learned that after-school programs in our city aren’t readily available to many families. This is something that’s hard for me to understand, particularly in one of the wealthiest cities in the nation. 

Kids get out of school between 1 and 3 p.m. during the week. Most working parents get off around 5 p.m. It stands to reason that funding for childcare between those hours would be permanently fixed into our education, or even public safety, budgets. But this simply isn’t the case. 

And it’s not just Seattle dealing with the paucity of after-school care. A report published by the Afterschool Alliance revealed that for every child who manages to secure a spot in an after-school program, there are four more who don’t. Black and Latino families are unsurprisingly disproportionately impacted by the unmet demand for after-school programs. In fact, for every year measured since 2004, this has been consistently true for Black families, with factors such as inaccessibility, not having safe or reliable transportation for their children, and financial restrictions cited as common barriers. 

A trend I’ve noticed recently is community organizations and smaller nonprofits stepping up to fill this void. A Seattle-based art organization that I work with, for example, does after-school youth art programming at various schools around the city called Art Together. But to do this work, even on such a small scale compared to what the city’s families need, requires hours and hours (which turns into months) of work finding funding to cover the cost of supplies and decent pay for teaching artists. 

We see this more and more: community organizations and nonprofits battling for grant money to administer the programming and services that our cities and states should be providing us with. As a community, we can’t accept the excuse that there’s not enough money or inadequate staffing to properly care for our children. Last August, our City Council approved a $7,500 signing bonus for new police officer recruits and up to $30,000 bonuses for lateral hires from other departments.

How can we afford hiring bonuses for police officers, who are already some of our highest-paid public employees, and not for people who look after our children? This is especially counterintuitive when you consider that after-school programs not only pay for themselves but they’re also an effective, more sustainable way of achieving public safety. According to the Afterschool Alliance, with every $1 invested into these programs, communities save at least $3 through various returns, including crime reduction and juvenile delinquency.

But it’s also not simply a matter of budgets. It’s a matter of investing in our children to build healthy communities. Quality after-school programs provide safe and inclusive spaces for children, which leads to positive development and decreases the likelihood of young people engaging in risky behaviors. 

Furthermore, studies have shown that these types of programs provide academic support, increase school participation, and strengthen children’s social and emotional learning, which — among other benefits — can increase a child’s sense of self-worth. All of these benefits also have the ability to reduce poverty, increase economic mobility, and reduce reliance on public assistance when children become adults. There are also direct and more immediate economic benefits for working parents and guardians as well. 

In our country currently, 60% of parents said the cost of programs was the top reason for not enrolling their child in after-school care and nearly 40% said there were no spaces available in their local programs. 

The income-based disparities when it comes to quality after-school programs are what we’ve come to expect from our nation’s systems: Those most in need of resources are denied access. Despite 9 in 10 adults reporting that after-school programs are important to their communities, more than 19 million children are unable to enroll in an after-school program.

A lack of investment in communities is detrimental in every measurable way, and a lack of investment in our children, specifically, ensures that we’re creating generational problems that will negatively impact us for decades to come. Here in Seattle, our police budget grew by over $100 million between 2015 and 2020. Certainly we, as a city, can find the money to provide children with structure in a safe and nurturing environment for a few hours a day while their parents work.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Gennette Cordova is a writer, organizer, and social impact manager. She contributes to publications like Teen Vogue and Revolt TV and runs an organization, Lorraine House, which seeks to build and uplift radical communities through art and activism.

📸 Featured Image: Photo via Prostock-studio/

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