After-school programs are left empty because of understaffing

For many parents, the return to school for their children has not been a return to work.

After-school programs are left empty because of understaffing

With workdays that last longer than school days, they are struggling to find crucial after-school programs.

Schools-based providers cite difficulties in hiring and retaining staff among the main reasons they haven't fully recovered from the pandemic shutdowns. They say they are just as frustrated as their parents.

"We are in constant flux. Ester Buendia is the assistant director for after-school programming at Northside Independent Schools District in Texas. "We'll hire one person and another will resign." "We have just not been in a position to catch up this school year."

Before the pandemic there were 1,000 employees in the San Antonio district's after school program, serving over 7,000 students in its 100 elementary and intermediate schools. Today, the number of staff members responsible for overseeing approximately 3,300 students is less than half. There are more than 1,100 students on the waiting list for Learning Tree, which offers academic, recreational, and social enrichment up to 6:30 p.m. every school day.

It is difficult to determine how many parents of school-aged children are unable to return to work outside of the home due to gaps in care. Surveys show that most parents stay home with their children, mostly mothers, because they cannot find after-school programming. This causes staff shortages at programs that heavily rely on women to run.

"There is no doubt that after-school programs -- and the absence of after-school programmes at this stage -- are limiting women's ability to reenter into the workforce," Jen Rinehart, vice-president for strategy at Afterschool Alliance, said. The nonprofit works to improve programming.

She stated that if women do not return to work, then we won't have the staff needed for these after-school programs.

Afterschool Alliance's survey revealed that 24.6 million children couldn't access a program by 2021. However, availability and cost were both barriers. Out of more than 1,000 program providers, 54% had waiting list, which is a significant increase from the previous.

Wells Fargo reported that child care labor shortages, in which 96% of the workforce is female, are more severe than other industries, which also struggle to find reliable workers. Analysts concluded that employment was 12.4% lower than it was before COVID-19 at the start of March, which left an estimated 460,000 families having to make other arrangements.

The report stated that "access to affordable child care has been repeatedly shown to increase labor force participation among mothers."

In January, 6% of parents who had children aged 5-11 years found they were not working due to their child not attending school or care. Pew Research Center found that parents with children aged 5-12 had 6% less jobs in the third quarter of 2021.

After being on the waiting list, Erica Gonzalez from San Antonio was able to secure after-school places for her second and sixth grade daughters. This allowed her to keep her work schedule and allow her husband, who is a teacher, to coach.

Gonzalez knew there would be a lot of applicants so she made sure her children were enrolled in Learning Tree as soon as possible. She also kept in touch with their schools to keep them updated on the progress of each child's wait list.

Gonzalez stated that Gonzalez was just hoping and praying for spots to open up and they did.

Gonzalez stated that Gonzalez and her husband would have to find a way to get their daughters out of their schools to their husband so he could finish work.

She said that she would have to change her schedule to pick them up, drop off, and return to work. We would have found a solution, but it would have been difficult.

Rico X stated that the school-based after- and before-school programs he oversees at YMCA Middle Tennessee had to limit enrollment due to staff shortages. This has left capacity at 70% of the level it was before the pandemic. One of the 105 locations used to have 85 students, but it now has fewer than 60.

He said that some parents on our waitlists are in desperate need of help. "Unless there is a spot available, there's not much we can do."

He said that the YMCA, which sends its staff to the schools to manage the programs, is looking at another pay increase in order to attract more applicants. The minimum wage for site directors was raised from $13 to $16 an hr. Other employees were also given a $2 increase to $13.

"This is a lifeline to a large portion of our families. It allows them to work while also having the security that their children are safe and engaged. It's 100% a Lifeline," X stated.

According to the Afterschool Alliance survey, 71% of programs took steps to retain and attract staff. Most programs raised their salaries. In some cases, federal pandemic relief money was used to provide child care stabilization grants. Many companies also offer free child care to employees, as well as bonuses and paid time off.

Rinehart stated that the pandemic brought with it a huge unmet demand for after-school programs and summer programs. And, of course, as with almost all other challenges, the pandemic made the problem worse.

Kasey BlackburnJiron, the expanded learning coordinator at the West Contra Costa Unified Schools District in California, stated that providers the district relies upon describe applicants who skip scheduled job interviews or go through the hiring process, only to disappear after landing the job.

"My best guess would be that we don't pay them enough." Blackburn-Jiron stated that the current program serves far fewer students than the 5,000 who were enrolled in the program before the pandemic.

She said, "We're asking these 17-, 18, and 19-dollar-an-hour people to work miracles." "Most people don't have a bachelor's degree, but we want them to be amazing youth development practitioners. You must be able teach and model emotional and social skills. You must be able teach 21st-century skills and be able deal with traumatized youth.

She stated that state legislators recently increased funding for this program, which could result in better pay. However, the money won't reach programs until the end of school year.

Blackburn-Jiron stated that working families require school-based afterschool programs and that they have not been able "to meet the need." It is heartbreaking.