Thank You Legislature
As the executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit For Kids Only Afterschool, I wish to express my deep gratitude to our community’s legislative leaders for putting children and child care as a top priority in the Commonwealth’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget, which was recently finalized.
Thousands of children leave school each weekday afternoon alone, returning home or to other places that lack adult supervision. It is during these afternoon hours when children are most likely to be victims of crime or to engage in risky behaviors. However, quality, licensed after-school programs and out-of-school time (OST) programs do great things for young people and provide a safe alternative for working families.
In an OST program, children get a healthy snack and assistance with homework completion every day, participate in fun and engaging enrichment classes such as science, yoga, sports and the arts and can relax and socialize with their peers while their parents work. Dedicated, caring educators who work in OST programs offer a daily, consistent presence in children’s lives, with nurturing guidance and coaching that supports healthy social and emotional development. My experience running OST programs for over 30 years tells me that a highly skilled and qualified staff team is the most critical factor in delivering quality services. A statewide report focused on OST programs across our state – the Massachusetts Afterschool Research Study (MARS) – also documented that the retention of staff directly impact the quality OST programs provide youth.
Thanks to the foresight of our legislative leaders, many more Massachusetts children will have access to these types of quality OST programs. I am especially appreciative of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership and unwavering support of early education and after-school programs and his staff in the House for spearheading this priority and for relentlessly pushing forward on this issue. I also wish to thank Sen. Joseph A. Boncore for his advocacy and support in the Senate on behalf of children and families. Together, these legislators worked to ensure the inclusion of the following key budget items that will directly impact some of our community’s most disadvantaged youth and help their families to work.
− The Early Education Rate Reserve line item, funded at $15 million, will help sustain the early education and afterschool workforce by adding to the reimbursement rate providers receive when serving low-income and at-risk youth through state child care vouchers. These funds will help the OST field pay highly qualified, caring staff working with some of our neediest youth a living wage and reduce staff turnover.
− The Afterschool and Out-of-School Time Quality Grant – funded at $3.525 million – supports quality curriculums, program-quality enhancements, and professional development for staff. More than 100 programs serving over 10,000 children and youth will benefit from better quality programming to help them learn and grow.
I am also very thankful for legislative efforts to increase Children’s Mental Health Consultation. These funds are essential to ensuring children and adolescents with severe emotional disturbance and serious mental illness can access crucial mental health services.
Everyone at For Kids Only Afterschool is grateful to our legislators for their willingness to speak out for and support all children, including some of the most vulnerable populations among us.
Deborah Kneeland Keegan
For Kids Only Afterschool