The hours after school are often rife with worry as moms and dads struggle to cobble together safe and adequate childcare arrangements. As a mom, I constantly worry about what is best for my daughters after school. Safety is key, but it is not enough. I want to my daughters to use this time to explore their passions, enhance their academics with art, music, science and sports, and also have time to just be kids. I'm fortunate in that I can afford to pay for a variety of enrichment activities and safe, reliable adult care that will help my children succeed. But for too many families, these opportunities are simply out of reach. On any given day, more than 14 million kids -- including about 40,000 kindergartners -- are on their own after school.
As Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance, I work every day to provide all children with access to afterschool programs that will not only keep them safe but provide them with opportunities to thrive. We're committed to helping realize the goal of quality, affordable afterschool for all children and youth. But we can't do it alone.
One easy way that you can lend a hand is by signing the Afterschool for All card to President Obama. The Afterschool Alliance has created a group card to help remind the President how important afterschool programs are to kids and families, and encourage him to follow through on his campaign commitment to double funding for afterschool programs. That would provide more than one million children, with access to afterschool programs. The Afterschool Alliance will be delivering the card once the Administration is settled into office.
Afterschool programs keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families. But the supply of programs lags far behind demand -- just 6.5 million children are in afterschool programs, while the parents of another 15.3 million children say their children would participate in afterschool if a program were available. The current economic downturn is creating even greater demand for afterschool programs, as families struggle to keep their jobs, take on more hours, or afford basic necessities for their children. Afterschool programs ease the stress on parents--and earn real benefits for kids. In fact, kids in afterschool programs do better in school and achieve higher levels of education. Most important, they help provide students with social, behavior and academic skills that will help them succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy.
But now some families can no longer afford afterschool programs, or the cost to transport kids to programs. Meanwhile, budget cuts are forcing programs to reduce services, increase fees or even shut their doors. Many provide not only academic enrichment, but also breakfast, snacks and even a hot supper. At a time when more than 76% of voters agree that afterschool programs are an "absolute necessity", it is imperative that these supports, relied on by so many, not only function but also respond to growing demands.
The Afterschool for All card is a fun, personal way to show support for programs our families need. It will be important for our nation's leaders to keep hearing this message from all of us, over and over again. After you sign our card, feel free to pass it along. To see what else you can do, and to sign the national Afterschool for All petition, go to the Afterschool Alliance's Policy and Action Center.
Follow Jodi Grant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/afterschool4all