Out-of-School Time Care in Washington State

September 2000

by School’s Out Consortium (YWCA host agency)

presented to the Department of Social and Health Services Office of Child Care Policy

and the Child Care Coordinating Committee

Washington’s young people have been receiving heightened attention from elected officials and community leaders in recent years. Research on “developmental assets” and brain development, the positive effects of prevention programs, media coverage of school shootings, public debate about student performance on standardized tests plus increased demands for child care because of welfare reform all combine to bring young people to the forefront of our consciousness. This has resulted in some significant investments and innovative attempts in several arenas to provide children with the support they need to succeed. It has also brought to the surface some important issues about our commitment to ensuring that every child in our state has the tools s/he needs to be healthy and thriving. It is an opportune time, therefore, to take a step back and look at one aspect of our services for children: out-of-school time care.

“Out-of-school time care” is a relatively new phrase in the United States’ child care lexicon. In general terms, it is defined as formally organized activities for five to 14 year olds that occur during non-school hours. Programs may take a wide variety of forms: enrichment programs, summer camps, licensed school-age care, ethnic or culturally specific programs, sports and recreational activities, tutoring and mentoring programs, cultural and arts activities, special interest clubs, leadership groups, among others. They all offer supervised care for children and youth, some during the school week, school breaks, and others on weekends or evenings. Programs are operated by many types of groups, including non-profit organizations, for-profit businesses, faith communities, ethnic and volunteer groups, public and private schools, and public agencies, such as city parks and recreation departments and libraries.

Children are still left home alone

Out-of-school time care for five to 14 year-olds is at a critical crossroads as the United States enters the 21st century. While numerous studies over the past decade have clearly demonstrated the pernicious social effects of school-aged children spending significant portions or their day without adult supervision, even the most conservative reports indicate that between five and eight million of the nation’s 38 million children in this age group fend for themselves for some part of each week. Parents most often cite the high cost of care as the greatest barrier to enrolling their school-age children in programs. A year-round, five-day-a-week after-school program is typically $80 a week or $4,000 a year. Faced with limited financial resources, parents often leave their older child home in order to be able to afford to enroll their younger children in programs. In rural communities, the limited number of programs and poor public transportation prevent families from accessing care for their children. Children of color as well as those whose primary language is other than English also find that the number of programs that would meet their cultural needs are limited.

The National Institute on Out-of-School Time and other organizations have repeatedly published data which shows why supervised care is crucial for America’s children. These studies indicate that unsupervised children are particularly vulnerable to risky and often criminal behavior; juvenile crime rates triple between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., the hours children are most often home alone. Crime prevention organizations, such as police departments and community groups, have rallied to support after-school funding if for no other reason than to lower the types of risky behavior that can result in school truancy, early sexual activity and substance abuse. Emphasizing the positive influence of out-of-school time programs, data repeatedly supports the conclusion that children whose time away from school is structured and supervised by adults are more cooperative, less prone to violence and other forms of crime, miss less school, and have higher academic achievement than their unsupervised counterparts.

Despite the dangers of leaving kids home alone and the benefits of having them in supervised activities, the number of unsupervised children is only expected to grow over the next 10 years. This can be attributed to the continuing increase of the percentage of working mothers and single-parent households and welfare reform’s push for newly-working parents to seek child care they can rarely afford. Today in Washington state, 76 percent of women with children between ages six and 17 are in the labor force. More affluent Americans are also working more hours per week than any period in the recent past. Numerous studies over the past 15 years have made clear that these broad national trends have resulted in a steady increase of school-age children who must regularly care for themselves when they are out of school and while their parents are working. The Urban Institute has reported that nearly 10 percent of the nation’s six to nine year-olds are unsupervised some part of each school day, and the problem grows exponentially as they get older: One-third of 10 to 12 year-olds and nearly one-half of 12 year-olds are unsupervised.

What are Washington state’s young people doing when they are not in school?

There are an estimated 836,854 young people, ages five to 14, in Washington state, according to 1990 Census Bureau projections. Children in this age group are generally in grades one through eight. Although School’s Out Consortium and other children’s advocates have emphasized the need to collect data on and provide services for 13 and 14 year olds, studies continue to include only five to 12 year-olds. This, in part, is influenced by federal guidelines for eligibility for subsidized child care, which only cover children up to their thirteenth birthday.

The data shown in Figure 1 shows the percentage of school-age children in licensed programs and the percentage of children who qualify for free/reduced price lunch programs, a federal indicator of poverty. In every region of the state, the numbers are consistent: there are only enough licensed slots for 8 percent of the school-age children in our state. Families with low incomes, however, can qualify for child care assistance only for licensed slots. Given the percentages of youth qualifying for free/reduced price lunch programs, it is apparent that each region of the state faces severe shortages for subsidized school-age care.

Licensed School-Age Care in Washington

and Youth Eligible for Free/Reduced-Price Lunch (Figure 1)

Licensed School-Age Care in Washington state population of 5-14 year-olds (Table 1)

DSHS Region

Kids, 5-12

Kids, 13-14

Number of licensed slots for kids 5-12

% of kids (5-12) in licensed care































Washington state counties by DSHS region (Table 2)















San Juan













Grays Harbor











Walla Walla



Pend Oreille















The Urban Institute’s 2000 study, Patterns of Child Care for School-Age Children with Employed Mothers, provides some supplemental data to determine where Washington’s young people are spending their out-of-school time. The institute conducted its 1997 National American Family Survey, using a representative sample, then interviewed working parents in 12 states, including Washington. The findings for Washington are consistent with the child care patterns in other states. Researchers qualify that these findings are conservative, given that parents may “underreport behaviors that they feel are socially undesirable. This tendency is especially relevant with respect to [the] estimates of the percentage of children in self-care, as respondents might be reluctant to acknowledge that they regularly leave their children alone.” (Self-care is another term used to describe children who are unsupervised while parents are working or attending school.)

Washington State Child Care Patterns for 6-9 year olds (Table 3)

Type of care

Percentage of children, ages six to nine

Before- and after-school care


Family child care


Nanny or babysitter


Relative care


Parent/other care




Washington State Child Care Patterns for 10-12 year olds (Table 4)

Type of care

Percentage of children, 10-12

Before- and after-school care


Family child care


Nanny or babysitter


Relative care


Parent/other care




This available data reveals several gaps in information and service. While Washington was fortunate enough to be included in the Urban Institute study, the findings only reveal a snapshot in time. Washington State must establish systems to regularly collect information on a broad variety of out-of-school time care options. By continuing to collect information only on licensed programs, we will not be able to assess fully the supply of different care options and the demand.

In partnership with the Seattle MOST Initiative, Child Care Resources developed and launched in 1996 a database of activities that includes a variety of out-of-school time options. The database is available in printed versions, on the Internet and at several community access points, including all Seattle Public Libraries and a limited number of community-based agencies. This has proven to be useful to Seattle parents looking for programs in their neighborhood or those that meet their children’s interests. Parents in other communities have expressed frustration that a similar database is not available to them. Significant resources are needed for all child care resource and referral agencies to adopt this model, conduct outreach to a broad variety of program providers, maintain the database and publicize the information to parents. Not only would this provide a much-needed service to parents, it would also provide a way to gauge the availability of out-of-school time programs across the state.

Periodic studies, similar to the Urban Institute’s interview of parents, are also needed to determine child care patterns of Washington families. In these studies, attention must be paid to family’s income level, race, language ability and geographic location so we can determine the impacts any of these characteristics have on a family’s ability to obtain high quality care and their choice of care, and respond appropriately.

While most studies only provide information for five to 12 year-olds, the findings indicate that as children get older, the more likely they are to stay home alone. Even with 10-12 year-olds in Washington, 27 percent are already spending their out-of-school time in self-care (Table 3). We can infer that the percentage would be higher for 13 and 14 year olds, the age group that is considered too old for child care and too young for most teen programs.

For the past few years, School’s Out Consortium has led efforts to educate government officials, policymakers and funders about the specific needs of this age group and succeeded in leveraging funding for middle school youth programs. The Department of Social and Health Services, with money from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, recently allocated funds to create or expand out-of-school time programs for this age group. Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants and the state Juvenile Justice Prevention Fund, authorized by the state legislature in 1999, have provided money for programs serving middle school youth. The Seattle MOST Initiative, with funding from the Wallace Reader’s Digest Funds and the Seattle Families and Education Levy, also started middle school programs in Seattle. These important investments must be maintained and expanded to ensure that every community in Washington has engaging activities for their 13 and 14 year-olds.

Relative care for school-age children and youth, as well as for younger children, deserves closer examination. The Urban Institute finds this type of care more popular than center-based and family home child care. Other studies conducted show that relative/in-home care, also known as informal care, is especially popular with low-income families and communities of color. A 2000 report by the Asian/Pacific Islander Child Care Task Force, for instance, found that over half of the parents interviewed use relative/in-home care. “The informal care that is so widely used among A/PI parents is not part of the system of support to which licensed care belongs. Licensed programs may have access to public health nurses, family support workers and regularly receive information about training opportunities and scholarships. Providers of informal care do not have the support to make the quality improvements desired by the families they serve.” Parents who participated in the study said they wanted their relative/in-home caregivers to learn ways to support their children’s education and receive training on nutrition and safety. By creating appropriate opportunities for relative/in-home caregivers to access training and support, Washington state can support families’ efforts to have safe, accessible care for their children.

Barriers to meeting the need for quality out-of-school time care

School’s Out Consortium, through interviews and forums, asked providers what challenges they faced when trying to provide care for young people during non-school hours. As expected, staff turnover was the most common barrier, followed by broader financing issues, transportation, facilities and inadequate communication with schools.


Staff turnover has plagued the school-age care and early childhood education fields for years. Recently, a number of initiatives have sought to raise the wages of caregivers, improve their skills and decrease turnover. The impacts of these strategies, however, have had little effect on out-of-school time care providers. The Governor allocated $2 million for the Early Childhood Career and Wage Ladder in 1999. The project combines public and employer dollars to pay for wage increases for providers in licensed programs who obtain additional training. Of the 127 licensed programs participating in the pilot, only a handful exclusively serve school-age children. Public dollars also went to implement the TEACH (Teacher Education and Compensation Helps) Project, which provides financial bonuses for providers who complete college courses in their field. Again, participation from school-age care providers was minimal: Few benefited from the project during its first year.

While these initiatives designed to stem the staff turnover tide are critical, it is equally important to examine why certain staff retention models do not work for particular populations, like school-age care and family home care providers, and develop ones that are effective for them. We also know very little about the staffing issues other kinds of out-of-school time care providers face. The majority of national and statewide studies conducted regarding staff wages and turnover usually include only early childhood education professionals. Accordingly, the strategies developed only reflect their circumstances. Licensed school-age care providers face similar difficulties with low wages, but their problems are exacerbated by the part-time nature of their work. Early childhood and education programs typically operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., offering workers full-time employment. Licensed school-age care programs operate before school and after-school, leaving workers with split shifts or only part-time hours. Some of the current initiatives limit eligibility by the number of hours worked, thereby disqualifying many of the school-age care providers who most need help.

Financing: Staff turnover is only one component of the broader financing issues out-of-school time care faces. Providers complain that they are hampered in their efforts to expand services and improve quality because 1) parents can only afford to pay a limited amount for care; 2) public and private funding is not available for operational costs; and 3) funding for serving children with special needs (physical, emotional, developmental and language) is limited to low-income families. Providers say they are also dissuaded from accepting subsidies for low-income children because DSHS reimbursement rates are inadequate to cover the full cost of care.

This year, the Governor set aside a total of $9 million to build communities’ capacity to provide child care for recipients of TANF. Because of School’s Out Consortium’s advocacy efforts, before- and after-school care as well as out-of-school time programs for middle school youth were identified as priorities for these TANF dollars. Initially, nearly $4.5 million – the largest single state investment for school-age youth in our history – was earmarked for a broad range of before- and after-school care and middle school programs, creating an estimated 2,100 more slots. Unfortunately, this investment was significantly trimmed. While this allocation will certainly help create new options for low-income families, the programs started will need money and support beyond the nine-month funding period in order to sustain their efforts. All future efforts to start new programs must have multiple-year funding periods to ensure that these programs can be sustained.

Child Care Works for Washington (CCWW) is seeking in the 2001 legislative session state investments to address some of the financing barriers providers have identified. This includes raising child care subsidy reimbursement rates to the 80th percentile (based on the 2000 child care rates survey), which would cost $40 million for two years. CCWW also recommends moving towards a system of adjusting the rates annually to reflect accurately the current cost of care. Federal law prohibits providers from charging more for caring for children with special needs. In order to ensure appropriate care, however, they need to hire additional staff. The coalition of child care advocates requests $6 million to allow providers to hire additional staff to enable them to serve children with special needs, regardless of the family’s income level. (Current funding for children with special needs is only available to parents who meet income guidelines.)


Limited public transportation makes it difficult for school-age children to travel between home, community-based programs and school. This problem has been exacerbated this year by two developments. With the passage of Initiative 695, which revised the state’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, local municipalities have had to cut back public transportation in their communities. Prior to the initiative’s passage, rural areas of the state already faced limited public transportation options; now, some have no public transportation at all. Providers say they have had to cut field trips from the programming. They also say enrollment has dropped because families are unable to transport their children to and from the program.

Out-of-school time care providers who had resources used to be able to circumvent public transportation by using large passenger vans. The U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, however, recently declared it unlawful for car dealers to “sell or lease a new vehicle with a capacity of more than 10 persons for the purpose of transporting students to and from school or a school-related activity, unless the vehicle complies with applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses.” In order to meet those standards, out-of-school time programs would have to hire drivers with commercial licenses, provide them with specialized training, and conduct background and drivers’ records plus drug and alcohol tests. This effectively bars providers from purchasing or leasing new passenger vans since it would be too costly for them to meet the required standards.

Transportation is critical for families trying to get to work while making sure their children can safely get from home to program to school and back again. A thorough study should be conducted on the transportation needs of parents with school-age children, taking into account the differences between rural and urban areas. Different models for meeting these needs should be attempted and evaluated. Meanwhile, school districts should work with parents and providers to create transportation policies and practices that meet families’ needs.

Facilities: Providers also said that the lack of appropriate and affordable facilities is another barrier to offering services to more children and youth. The majority of privately run out-of-school time programs lease space from schools, places of worship and other landlords; very few have the resources to own their own facility. Renters are usually left to “make do” with available space, which is usually not designed to meet the developmental needs of school-age children and youth. Some public and private dollars are available to human service organizations for capital projects. Funding information, however, is scattered or very difficult to obtain. Further, capital funds usually cannot be used for the staff costs associated with overseeing major renovations nor technical assistance.

There have been successful models for supporting the facility needs of out-of-school time providers. Seattle Public Schools, for instance, uses levy money to create dedicated child care space in new and renovated schools. The City of Seattle uses funding from another levy to provide technical assistance in the planning of these dedicated spaces. This ensures that the spaces created are developmentally appropriate. From 1996 to 1998, the Seattle MOST Initiative, with $200,000 from the Wallace Reader’s Digest Funds, supported a variety of facilities improvement efforts that benefited over 3,000 Seattle children and youth. With this money, programs were able to leverage longer leases from landlords, meet health and safety standards, increase capacity and create developmentally appropriate environments. Funded programs also received training and technical assistance throughout the implementation of their projects.

Existing funding for capital projects should be more widely advertised. Funders should provide technical assistance to programs that are interested in applying, as well as on-going assistance to funded programs. All new school buildings should have dedicated child care space that is designed to meet the developmental needs of children and youth during their out-of-school time.

Schools: Community-based out-of-school time care providers face challenges with school officials at the state, district and building level. The Office for the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is currently in charge of a variety of nutrition programs, which would reimburse out-of-school time programs, among others, for meals served to children in the summer, and snacks after school. Through conversations with providers throughout the state, we found that there are relatively few community-based organizations that take advantage of these federal resources. Publicity for the nutrition programs is minimal, eligibility requirements are too restrictive, and the reimbursement rates are too low. In its 2000 report, the A/PI Child Care Task Force also found that some of the food requirements were not culturally appropriate. Given the various financing issues providers already face, reimbursement for meals would result in significant savings that could be reallocated to staff salaries and other programming needs. OSPI should strengthen their outreach efforts to increase participation so that more school-age children and youth can receive nutritious meals at their out-of-school time program.

Community-based providers point out that their dealings with school districts are limited to a landlord-tenant relationship. They have a lease agreement, but there are no systems in place to encourage communication and partnership. One common complaint is schools’ failure to notify providers about early-release days and other scheduling changes that have a tremendous effect on the program and the children and families they serve. Providers want school officials to regard them as partners in supporting children’s development, not simply as tenants. School districts and providers should examine existing models or create new ways to promote communication and share resources, including specialized staff who could assist providers in serving children with special needs.


There are great gaps in Washington’s out-of-school time care system. While recent investments are a step in the right direction, we must continue to evaluate how we are taking care of children and youth during the times they are not in school. We must develop policies and secure the necessary resources – both public and private – to close these gaps. Below is a summary of recommendations made throughout this report. No one agency or organization can address all these areas; elected officials and policymakers, government and private intermediary agencies, businesses and foundations, research institutions and school officials, parents and youth all must play a role in acting on these recommendations. Only by working in partnership will Washington citizens fulfill our desire to make sure that every child has safe places to go when they are not in school, places where they can have fun, learn and belong.

  • Create and maintain systems for collecting information about the various out-of-school time care options available, not just licensed programs, in all Washington state communities.
  • Periodically examine the child care patterns of families, with particular attention to differences because of income, race, language ability and geographic location.
  • Maintain and expand recent investments in programs for middle school youth.
  • Study relative/in-home care and create appropriate ways to support providers of this type of care.
  • Ensure that strategies to address staff turnover among child care providers is inclusive of out-of-school time care providers. If necessary, develop and implement separate staff turnover initiatives for this population.
  • Allocate funds to start new programs and make sure funding periods are for at least two or three years to ensure that these programs can be sustained.
  • Increase reimbursement rates so providers see more incentive to caring for children with subsidies.
  • Allocate public dollars to allow providers to hire additional staff needed to serve children with special needs, regardless of the families’ income level.
  • Conduct a thorough study on the transportation needs of parents with school-age children, taking into account the differences between rural and urban areas. School districts, parents and providers should work together to create transportation policies and practices that meet families’ needs.
  • Improve publicity and outreach for available funds for capital projects. Funders should provide technical assistance to programs that are interested in applying, as well as on-going assistance to funded programs.
  • Create dedicated child care space in all new or renovated school buildings. Ensure that space is designed to meet the developmental needs of children and youth during their out-of-school time.
  • Strengthen outreach efforts for different federal child nutrition programs administered by OSPI.
  • Adopt or create effective ways to promote communication and share resources among schools and out-of-school time programs so they work in partnership to support children’s whole development.


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