INDIANAPOLIS — With back-to-school season well underway, before- and after-school programs are quickly filling up.
"An after-school program is most effective when it is high quality," said Lakshmi Hasanadka, CEO of Indiana Afterschool Network, noting the programs are often a lifeline for children looking to grow and develop. "We have tools and resources that are available to help a program build their quality."
The clock is ticking, however, for families to sign up for the 2022-23 school year.
Hasanadka said just like so many other aspects of life, child care programs have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are experiencing a staffing shortage," Hasanadka said. "For every one child that is in an after-school program, there are three more waiting to get in here in Indiana. The need is there, and the demand is there. Families want programming, but it is tough to get programs opened because of a lack of staffing."
For families looking to finalize plans for the upcoming school year, Hasanadka recommends starting with a few simple, self-reflection questions.
"Is transportation an issue?" Hasanadka said. "Would you be able to get your child from school at the end of the day to a program or would you need the program to be able to provide transportation or do you need a program at your school?"
She also recommends families think about other considerations, such as specialized programming:
- Do you need your child to enroll in a faith-based program?
- Would an arts or humanities program best suit your child?
- What does your student want and expect out of a before- or after-school program?
"We hear all the time about the academic standards for our school day," Hasanadka said. "Well, did you know, for after school, there are also standards?"
Hasanadka said a great resource for families is Child Care Answers, a program based in Indianapolis that is designed to help connect families to the right programs.
Child Care Answers can even assist families with financial aid, if cost is a concern, according to Hasanadka.
She also recommends families learn more about local programs offered by the YMCA and Boys & Girls of America.
"Some people may think of it as babysitting," Hasanadka said. "You know, 'I just need something for my kid to do between when the school day ends and when I can leave work to pick them up. I need to just know that they're safe.' A good, high-quality after-school program is so much more than that."