Detroit’s kids deserve after-school programs

Kim Newberry

After-school programs can help overcome the many challenges facing children in our low-income neighborhoods. My program, Developing KIDS, provides support with school work, social interaction with caring adults, a broad range of activities to expand their horizons and spark their imaginations and, of course, safety in the sometimes perilous hours after school.

But we aren’t reaching nearly as many children as we wish we could, for the simple reason that we don’t have the funding. Already I’m serving 160 children on a budget sufficient for 75, and I’ve had to turn away many more kids in need.

Now the funding shortage is about to worsen. That’s because the city has yet to truly invest in youth development, leaving that heavy lift to philanthropic groups. For a decade, the Skillman Foundation has filled much of the gap, championing programs that support youth in six neighborhoods where many of the city’s children reside. Their concentrated support has helped stabilize these neighborhoods and attract additional funders. Now, the Skillman Foundation is taking the learnings built over the course of its 10-year Good Neighborhoods Initiative and expanding their support citywide.

But while philanthropic support is expanding, Detroit remains the only large metropolitan city to lack a youth development fund at the municipal level. This kind of dedicated, stable support is a missed opportunity for our city and our children.

As a result, a number of programs across the city are facing funding difficulties that could leave children unsupervised and on the streets every day after school.

A new study makes clear that it’s not just the children of Detroit whose parents have a hard time finding after-school programs for them. According to research commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance, a national organization that works to increase access to after-school programs, two-thirds of parents living in communities of concentrated poverty say that finding an enriching environment for their child in the hours after school was a challenge, compared to less than half of parents living outside those areas.

Moreover, parents in communities of concentrated poverty report having fewer programs available and having more difficulty affording what options they have. Similarly, unmet demand for afterschool — children whose parents say they’d enroll their child in a program if one were available to them — is much higher in communities of concentrated poverty (56 percent) than elsewhere (41 percent).

Of course, every child who needs a program ought to have access to one. But what makes this data even more troubling is that it’s often the children in poor communities who could benefit the most from afterschool. In addition to safety and security, after-school programs typically provide homework help; learning opportunities for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); reading and writing time; and more. In addition, many programs provide snacks and meals. That’s not just a convenience: For some of the children in my program, the food we serve them in the afternoon is the only dependable meal they’re likely to get that day.

One of the biggest demands on after-school programs’ resources in Detroit is making sure children have a safe way home at the end of each afternoon. For many, walking through their neighborhoods simply isn’t a viable option, and others go to school too far from home to walk, even if it were safe. But finding dollars for transportation is difficult, so our staff often end up driving children home themselves, mindful that parents might otherwise pull their kids out of the program.

We have to do better. All our children deserve safety and support, all day long.

Kim Newberry is president & CEO of Developing KIDS.