Public Policy Forum Blog

Afterschool programs valued by parents for convenience, safety, homework help, and low cost


A recent blog post by Governing magazine provocatively titled “How to Craft an After-School Program That Doesn't Suck” points out that benefits of afterschool programming cannot be counted on if kids do not regularly attend. Therefore, it is important to understand why parents are enrolling their children in afterschool programs and whether they find value in the programs. Today, the Forum releases a new report finding that Milwaukee parents look for convenient, safe programs that offer homework help after school.  

We conducted focus groups of parents at eight Milwaukee afterschool programs to better understand the aspects of programs most valued by parents and their expectations for quality, affordability, and convenience. This research is part of a larger project analyzing issues of quality among Milwaukee’s hundreds of afterschool programs.  The focus groups, conducted in school-based and stand-alone programs, provide a small snapshot into quality as perceived by the city’s parents.  

We spoke with a total of 53 parents in five neighborhoods and heard overwhelmingly that parents look first for convenience, location, and schedule. Most parents also were very concerned with their children’s safety and ability to access help with homework. Many felt that where there was a tight connection between the school and the afterschool program, their children’s academic progress benefitted. 

When asked about the value of the program, nearly all parents recognized that program quality was related to staff quality and that high quality staff would be more costly to employ. Parents who viewed their children’s programs as being of lower quality emphatically expressed a need for better training for program staff. Parents were split on whether the higher costs of higher quality programs could be passed along to families, however. Many parents said they would be willing to contribute to some extent, but most also emphasized that parents expect and need these programs to be free or low cost. 

Where programs were found not to be meeting families’ needs was in providing engaging activities for middle and high school students, as well as providing academic supports for these older children.    

A new effort to improve the opportunities for students after school is getting off the ground in Milwaukee, led by the Center for Youth Engagement.  The model proposed by CYE, found in several other cities, is an afterschool intermediary, which provides an infrastructure for collaborative quality improvement and resource development.  These agencies serve as the convener for system-wide planning, data gathering, and evaluation.  They can also provide technical assistance and staff development for programs looking to make quality improvements.  In some cases, they serve as a fiscal agent for programs or as a mechanism for pooling philanthropic dollars. In all cases, they advocate for broad support for youth development programs from the business, civic, and education communities. 

It is clear from our previous research on afterschool program quality in Milwaukee that this city lacks a cohesive afterschool system, that quality is lacking in many programs, and that new state regulations will have a large impact on programs as they make changes to ensure compliance.  Now, we find that while parents are concerned about quality, they may be more concerned about convenience, safety, and cost. The conditions appear ripe for exploring the potential benefits of implementing an afterschool intermediary model in Milwaukee.

Anneliese Dickman