Afterschool Advocacy Matters

by Michelle Yanche, Director, Neighborhood Family Services Coalition

Advocacy Has Real and Tangible Results

New York City’s Out-of-School Time (OST) Initiative represents a monumental and ground-breaking effort in beginning to build a comprehensive and coordinated OST system in New York City.

September 2005 marked the beginning of the implementation of the new OST system, which is administered by the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD). This initiative was the culmination of a long planning process that brought together diverse stakeholders—including representatives of government agencies, social service providers, advocates, and funders—to envision the future direction of afterschool and year-round youth development programming in New York City. Programs funded by the OST Initiative offer a range of activities for young people during the hours they are not in school and their parents are working—after school, on weekends, and during school vacations—to support their social, emotional, and academic development while providing a safe and supportive environment. Now in its second year of implementation, the OST Initiative contracts with more than 200 organizations to operate 558 programs serving over 65,000 youth.

Even with this great start, all stakeholders acknowledge that the demand for OST programming in New York City continues to outpace the supply. A poll by Citizens’ Committee for Children yielded a conservative estimate that at least 300,000 children aged 10-19 are not being served by OST programs in NYC. The true need is likely to be substantially higher. With that in mind, youth and children’s services organizations—including my own, Neighborhood Family Services Coalition—began calling for a City investment of at least $100 million in new dollars over the next three years.

That advocacy has already begun to pay off. This year, Mayor Bloomberg included $32 million in new OST resources in the executive budget for fiscal year 2008. With this investment, the first phase of system expansion is underway. This great victory for out-of-school-time programs—and for the children and families who will be able to participate as a result of the new investment—was won through collective and coordinated advocacy in support of expanding the OST Initiative. Yet much more remains to be accomplished, and the need for ongoing and sustained advocacy continues.

Advocacy Must Be Ongoing

Going forward, a strong advocacy voice must persist in support of further strengthening and expanding OST programming in New York City. DYCD and system stakeholders have outlined three goals: Quality, Equity and Reach, and Sustainability. Specifically, we must advocate for investing to expand the capacity and the quality of the OST Initiative toward a three-year target of $100 million.

  • Capacity. The first phase of the new investment, already underway, focuses on expanding the system’s capacity to serve elementary-school-age children. Going forward, a similar expansion of capacity is needed for middle- and high-school-aged participants.
  • Quality. Investments are needed to maintain and strengthen program quality. We need to increase the per-participant rate of payment in order to allow for salary levels that can attract and retain experienced staff; to accommodate the real hardware, software, and personnel costs of DYCD’s new data management system, OST Online; and to offer expanded training and technical assistance opportunities.

For these goals to become a reality, we must all lend our voices to advocate together. No matter what your role—whether staff, volunteer, researcher, or private funder—you have a part to play in pushing for an expanded and stronger OST system. You can also encourage program participants and families, as well as community members and local leaders—even your friends and family—to get involved.

Advocacy Can Take Many Forms

Whatever your position or capacity, use the resources and opportunities at your disposal to make your voice heard. Here are just a few options:

  • Write a letter to urge your local City Council representative to make OST programming a priority in the budget
  • Attend a rally at City Hall
  • Take the time to respond to a survey about the challenges your program is facing in meeting the OST programming needs in your community
  • Organize a forum in your community to give parents, youth, and other neighborhood residents the opportunity to speak out about their experiences and needs
  • Sign up to receive action alerts and information from a statewide campaign like that organized by the Coalition for After-School Funding

Whatever form your support for OST programming takes, I hope you will join forces with the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, United Neighborhood Houses, The After-School Corporation, and other members of the New York City Youth Alliance. For more information on these organizations and how you can get involved, please contact me. We’re leading the charge to build the OST system. The specific set of actions you choose is up to you, but whatever you do—advocate! Advocacy matters!

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In this Issue

 
Authors

Lena Townsend
Michelle Yanche

Editor

Jan Gallagher

Web Design & Programming

David W. Hill

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