How do Afterschool Programs Benefit Our Youth?

In the USA, approximately 10.2 million children are inhabiting afterschool programs; and this number is steadily increasing.

It has been shown by research that high-quality afterschool programs may prevent adverse youth choices, and influence positive youth decisions.

The decisions which the children make will have a direct influence on their academic, social, and general health.

Recently, the afterschool field (e.g., researchers, policymakers, and practitioners) has started to detail how afterschool practices can support positive youth development. However, the area could benefit from a precise and more comprehensive understanding of which factors are most likely to result in positive outcomes for children enrolled in afterschool programs.

In order to address the gap in current understanding, LA’s BEST – a prominent Los Angeles afterschool program, the Claremont Evaluation Center (CED), and Child Trends – have created a white paper for policymakers, program leaders, and other afterschool stakeholders to provide a common approach that addresses three critical development outcomes in adolescence and childhood: academic performance, problem behaviors, and substance abuse and misuse.

Case example: LA’s BEST

One of the states that have the highest percentage of children who participate in afterschool programs in California – at approximately 25 percent. Afterschool programming is provided by LA’s BEST Afterschool Enrichment Program (LA’s BEST) to more than 25,000 children, 5-12 years old, in 200 elementary schools that are part of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSDS), which is the second-biggest school district in the US.

Previous assessments of LA’s Best have noted the long-term benefits offered to participants, including lower rates of juvenile crime involvement and lower drop-out rates. The white paper examines the practices as well as other factors contributing to the outcomes.

Promotive and protective factors of afterschool programs

The literature review initially identified the promotive and protective factors that help to increase the chances that positive youth development will support the afterschool programs.

Then we narrowed the review’s focus to specific promotive and protective factors addressing three key youth outcomes that are relevant to the prevention research field and afterschool programs:

  • Substance abuse/misuse
  • Academic dropout and performance
  • Problem Behaviors

Figure 1 displays the 12 promotive and protective factors that were identified by the literature. An ecological systems approach was used to organize them, which highlights several influence levels: individual, parent as well as other caregivers, peer, school, and community.

Figure 1. Promotive and Protective Factors That Are Relevant to Afterschool Programs

Evidence-informed afterschool practices

Also, the literature review highlighted four different categories of evidence-informed, actionable practice that can be implemented by afterschool program staff and leadership to build promotive and protective factors:

International organizational methods can be purposefully utilized by afterschool administration to support the implementation of high-quality afterschool program programming (e.g., leadership engaging in thoughtful training practices, onboarding, and staff hiring; leadership fosters collaboration across settings and among staff).

High-quality learning environments, nurtured by staff, can help to create afterschool environments where youth feel emotionally and physically supported and safe in different development domains (e.g., a variety of various activities are offered by staff that aligned with the diverse interests and needs of youth; small, interactive groups are facilitated by staff).

Nurturing and supportive relationships enhance the communications and interactions of staff members with, as well as response to, the youth who are enrolled in afterschool programs (e.g., staff reinforce and model positive behaviors, which behaviors, empowering youth to embrace and discover their unique identities, enforce and set clear expectations and rules).

Staff can explicitly and intentionally focus on the development of youth skills via concrete support that assists youth with developing malleable individual competencies and characteristics (e.g., support the use of practical problem-solving skills, help children with developing positive interpersonal relationship skills, work with children who develop understanding their emotions).

Based on the review of the literature, a conceptual model (Figure 2) was developed by CEC and Child Trends that summarized the evidence-informed, actional steps to build promotive and protective factors within afterschool programs for addressing academic performance, problem behaviors, and youth substance abuse and misuse.

Evidence-informed Conceptual Model

Next steps and Conclusions

The conceptual model that we have developed offers an approach that can be used by afterschool stakeholders to strengthen the promotive and protective factors for

  • Addressing academic performance.
  • Problem behaviors.
  • Substance abuse and misuse.

The step steps include evaluating LA’s BEST engagement in those afterschool practices, with promotive and protective factors developed through participating in the program. Hopefully, the model will beneficial to the broader field of afterschool programs by providing a shared approach to prevent poor youth outcomes and promote the overall well-being of the youth participating in afterschool programs.

Photo Credit: Flickr. Modifications to this photo have been made.

A New Kindergarten Readiness Method

For many years, states have been searching for a reliable way for measuring the extent that young children are on the right track for entering kindergarten, and for identifying subgroups of children who can benefit from intervention or additional support during the pre-K years. A new measure that is based on the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) might meet this need and work to fill a critical gap in early childhood policy-relevant data.

Kelly Murphy, Katherine Paschall, and Kristin Anderson Moore, who are Child Trends researchers, are working very closely with the Maternal Child Health Bureau (MCHB) of the HRSA to assist the Bureau with developing and refining the new Healthy and Ready to Learn National Outcome Measure, using National Survey of Children’s Health data.

This pilot measure is seeking to capture school readiness of children 3 to 5 years old at the national and state levels through the adoption of a whole child perspective, including measurements of early learning skills, social-emotional development, self-regulation, and motor and physical health development. After the measure has been finalized, decisionmakers (families, advocates, educators, early childhood administrators, governors, and legislators) will have a detailed picture of young children’s readiness in their states, broken down by essential factors such as parental education, income, ethnicity, and race.

The Healthy and Ready to Learn pilot measure has the potential for informing and strengthening policies, programs, and services for supporting young children as well as their families during the crucial years before entering kindergarten. For example, this finalized measure will allow decision makers to know what percentages of children are on track for entering kindergarten at 3, 4, and five years old. And the program will be able to identify subgroups of children whose readiness for kindergarten could be boosted by providing additional support during their early years. The measure, in essence, will work as an early warning system.

We here at Child Trends are very excited about the developing measure. It has the potential for answering the long-sought questions of the field about school readiness, and for providing this information, at the level of the population, years before children are entering kindergarten. However, the work is only beginning, and help is needed to ensure the measure is as reliable as it possibly can be. Currently, we are working with our MayaTech partners and the HRSA to validate this measure rigorously. We must take the necessary time to consider revised and new survey questions as well as confirm the accuracy of the proposal before it is released for the states to use.

An essential step in this validation process is to gather input from education and early childhood fields, especially as we continue to refine this measure and seek to understand its utility better.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/2908834379 some edits were made to this photo.

Technology Based Reproductive Health Program

There are a lot of health programs and interventions that are only available to a specific population in need of them. Technology has allowed practitioners to deliver intervention services using technology to reach some of the community that is otherwise more difficult to reach. Mobile devices are often universal, and this means the services can be delivered by mobile apps and text messaging which is allowing these harder to reach groups to get these services. This is particularly useful for teenagers and young adults.

A mobile app called Pulse is one of these interventions, and the Healthy Teen Network designs it. It gives access to comprehensive as well as medically accurate reproductive and sexual health information. This platform is designed specifically to reach teenage women who have high rates of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies and yet are not well served by other programs.

Child Trends and Healthy Teen Network worked together to evaluate the impact Pulse has on young women. Part of the evaluation included interviewing participants to see what their perceptions of Pulse were and to get insights from them. Some of the things they wanted to learn in the interviews are how they impacted recruitment, retention, and enrollment.

Main Factors Found From The Evaluation

When it comes to tech-based interventions, the interactive components along with reliable information and excellent design helps enhance the participant’s overall experience. Many of the participants who used Pulse liked the fact that it was simple and easy to navigate and loved being able to find real answers to their questions. Some of the information wasn’t necessarily new, but it allowed one place where they could easily find reliable information which increased their confidence as compared to the information they might get using search engines, social media or their friends. Some of the interviewees commented that after seeing the information provided it caused them to rethink what they were doing.

Even though these are some excellent results, it’s still necessary to look for ways to streamline a person’s experience by keeping up with changes in technology and user preferences. Those who used Pulse wanted to see the web-based mobile app changed to a phone app. As it currently is the app has to be viewed using a web browser on the phone. Some users also wanted to have more visual cues and less text. Many of those interviewed also suggested having ways for the user to interact such as discussion forums and a way to submit comments. The women wanted a way to talk to each other as they thought that would be good.

An effective recruitment method for text-based interventions is the use of social media. Those who took part in the Child Trends evaluation commented that the use of Facebook and Instagram was a great way to find young women for tech-based interventions. Because young people are on social media all the time, it’s the perfect place to reach them. This is a way to make them aware by advertising on platforms that they already use daily. The use of good ads and professional design along with content that is medically accurate improves the recruitment process. It also helps relieve public concern about whether the information is trustworthy and if it’s encouraging participation. Participants did not feel any frustration because of the fact they had minimal contact with study staff which was a potential objection of this technology-based intervention.

Those who participated in the Pulse study concluded that the use of social media is valuable and recommended including traditional recruitment methods such as at clinics, college campuses, and community centers. Having interventions that are app-based can often improve the engagement of participants by adding a text messaging component. Even so, the reactions of participants were split with some feeling this was helpful and others feeling it was redundant. The participants did explore that reminder messages that suggested they view the app or take surveys were helpful.

One In Three Children Were In Foster Care In 2017 Due To Parental Drug Abuse

During the fiscal year of 2017, children who entered foster care due to drug abuse in parents rose rapidly for the sixth year in a row. Of the children who were under the age of 18 years that were removed from their parents during the fiscal year 2017, 36 percent of those children were removed due to parental drug abuse.

According to the analysis from the fiscal years of 2016 and 2017, most states had an increase in the number of children entering foster care due to drug abuse.

Out of those states that showed an increase, six of those states New York, Wyoming, South Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico, saw the most significant increases. Interestingly, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and District of Columbia had the most substantial decrease over the rates of children entering foster care. It’s important to note that prices may increase for other reasons than that of drug abuse in parents. An excellent example of this is that many of these states implemented newer policies or newer practices that more clearly identified those children who may require protection by welfare services. This, in and of itself, could account for the more significant number of children who entered into foster care.

Neglect is the nationally recognized reason for children being removed from the home. However, these cases may have other factors that are underlying such as mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and more. Many of these cases may have gone unreported for many years until the time of removal. This threshold indicates that there are many variables to consider the reasons that children enter foster care. Some may be due to lower thresholds due to a failed urinalysis or due to investigators who are suspicious. Other children aren’t counted because these children are staying with family, friends, or relatives instead of entering the foster care system.

Media attention has long focused on the increase of opioid use ad the main contributing factor for children entering the foster care system. Per recent reports from the Assistant Secretary for the Planning and Evaluation of such Social Services, some counties tend to have a higher use of drugs than others. They also report a higher rate of hospitalization and deaths due to opioid use. This, in and of itself, may skew the results since there are more in certain counties than others who are using opioids. This can give a more significant increase in the numbers. As one begins to understand the system, the results can be more readily calculated. Another challenge is that the particular types of drugs in use aren’t always calculated.

In spite of the growing wealth of knowledge, the challenge remains in the issue. Drug addiction is rampant in the United States and territories. It affects all walks of life. Many areas lack the necessary resources for treating the parent’s drug addiction. There is also a severe shortage of foster homes in many areas, especially for children of drug addicts. Many prevention services are offering a bit of relief to those families who may be affected by drug addiction and reducing the risk of children being mandatorily removed from the home. Further preventive services include mental health as well as substance abuse services. This can offer families more support to help prevent the need to remove children from parental custody.

The next analysis of the fiscal year for foster care will examine how younger children are doing in the foster care system.