A new report from Afterschool Alliance finds high levels of participation in summer and after-school programs in low-income communities along with an even greater demand for these services.
The nonprofit organization released its “America After 3PM Special Report: Afterschool in Communities of Concentrated Poverty,” on Tuesday. The study used survey data that were collected in 2014 from more than 30,000 parents and included 13,000 in-depth interviews to examine parents’ thoughts on after-school and summer learning opportunities. For the purpose of this report, survey respondents were identified as living in a community of concentrated poverty if they lived in a zip code that falls within a census track that has been designated as such and if they lived in a zip code that has a poverty rate of 30 percent or above.
“We were really interested in looking at how after-school and summer programs are supporting children and their families living in communities of concentrated poverty,” said Jen Rinehart, Afterschool Alliance’s senior vice president for policy and research. “We know from years of collecting America After 3PM data that students who are from low-income families and students who are African-American and Hispanic are more likely to participate in after-school programs but are also more likely to show high levels of demand for after-school programs and report not enough programs available.”
So Rinehart said the researchers wanted to find out if this problem was exacerbated for minority and low-income families living in areas of concentrated poverty. And, the data confirmed their hunch. The survey found that 24 percent of children living in areas of concentrated poverty participated in after-school programs. That’s compared to 18 percent nationally. But the number of students living in concentrated poverty who would participate in an after-school program if it were available to them was 56 percent. The comparable average figure for the nation is 41 percent. For African-American families in these communities, the demand was even higher. The survey found that while 27 percent of black students living in these areas attend after-school programs, 71 percent would attend if these programs were available.
The report cited statistics that show that African-Americans are 2.5 times as likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty as whites, while Hispanics are about two times as likely.
Barriers to Participation
The report listed several factors that prevent families in low-income communities from participating in after-school and summer programs.
“The lack of programs in communities of concentrated poverty appears to be a much bigger issue in those communities than we see elsewhere,” said Rinehart. “They also reported a lack of a safe way to get to and from programs as a big barrier to participation.”
Cost was also a huge consideration for parents living in communities of concentrated poverty. More than 60 percent agreed that current economic conditions have made it difficult for them to afford placing their child in an after-school program, while that was the case for 47 percent of parents living in other areas.
“There is some increased work that could be done to raise awareness about the benefits of after-school programs as well as just the overall array of after-school providers that might be working in these communities in order for families to be able to find programs,” said Rinehart. “We’ve seen, in some instances, databases at a city or a county level that families can access that will help point them to after-school and summer providers.”
And, Rinehart said, schools also have a role to play.
“Stronger connections with schools is always a way to help better inform parents about the availability of summer and after-school programs,” said Rinehart. “If the schools don’t know about the programs, they’re not able to link parents and families with those programs. But if there’s a strong connection between the provider and the school system, they can help direct children and families to programs to make sure that they’re getting access to the services that they need.”
Areas for Further Study
The survey found that parents living in areas of concentrated poverty who had not enrolled their children in after-school programs were more likely than their peers in other areas to have negative perceptions about these programs. For example, 44 percent of these parents cited unsatisfactory quality of care as one of the reasons they didn’t enroll their children.
Rinehart said researchers were surprised by this finding and wanted to compare it to these parents’ attitudes toward schools with the hypothesis that they might find similar negative feelings.
“We know the history of communities of concentrated poverty, that in many cases, school systems were letting kids and families down,” said Rinehart. “Our suspicion is that there are a wide range of social services, educational services in communities of concentrated poverty that families might share this same perception about because historically they haven’t been up to par. This is where we need greater public awareness in these communities to highlight the really strong programs that exist to shift that thinking among families, so that they’re not lumping after-school in with, say, a negative experience they had with their school system.”
Afterschool Alliance received critical support for its 2014 America After 3PM survey from five foundations including The Wallace Foundation and the Noyce Foundation, both of which help support some content coverage in Education Week.
GRAPHIC: This graphic from the America After 3PM Special Report Afterschool in Communities of Concentrated Poverty shows the demand for after-school programs in this community as well as parental satisfaction with these programs. (Afterschool Alliance)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.