Although it was not a central goal of the Initiative, we learned that the benefits of out-of-school time program participation extend from students to their parents and caregivers. This is due both to participating programs’ family engagement efforts and to the ripple effect that program benefits for students have on their families.
Research indicates that out-of-school time programs can promote greater family support for students, which can improve educational equity by better equipping parents and caregivers to advocate for students throughout their education (Auerbach, 2009; Bouffard et al., 2011; Edwards & Kutaka, 2015; Tagle, 2011). Studies also indicate that the safe environment these programs provide outside of school hours gives families peace of mind and helps parents and caregivers maintain consistent employment, thereby increasing family stability and lowering stress (Afterschool Alliance, 2020; Barnett & Gareis, 2006; McCombs et al., 2017).
While the type and intensity of family engagement varies by program, intentional and responsive family engagement is one factor the Initiative team looks for when selecting participating programs and supports through the learning community.
Initiative-supported programs engage families in ways that are well aligned with recommendations from existing research. Kreider & Cunningham (2011) outlined a research-based typology for out-of-school time family engagement comprising:
These types of family engagement are present in many of the Initiative’s participating programs, with variations depending on the type of organization and program and in response to community strengths and needs. Some programs maintain regular contact with families at pick-up or drop-off or by phone/text/email. Some provide other types of assistance such as helping parents with parent-teacher conferences or with navigating and accessing support systems. Some programs also offer events, classes or other opportunities for parents to learn about their children, what children are learning in out-of-school time, and education more broadly.
Initiative-supported programs help parents and caregivers navigate the educational system and build supportive communities, which can decrease stress at home.
Parents and caregivers report that programs play a crucial mediating role, helping them navigate systems, processes and forms. This is particularly valuable for those less familiar or connected with education and social support systems and structures, especially when they receive hands-on guidance and interpretation. One program leader told us about a school administrator who reported that parents seemed more empowered as a result of the program’s support.
It has helped [my daughters] a lot because [staff] are involving me in how to help the girls. In school I used to make appointments with the school principals and they wouldn’t answer. [The coordinator] has helped me make an appointment and even went with me to the meeting with the principal and translated.
I used to have teachers complain that I was not filling out the forms but I didn’t know what they said. This program helps me to feel good as a parent by helping me support my child.
Program support for college preparation is especially appreciated by parents or caregivers who have not been to college themselves. As a result, they are more comfortable and prepared to help their children with the transition into college.
Building supportive communities
As staff build relationships with parents and caregivers, they work together to support students. In some programs, parents and caregivers also form relationships with one another, providing another layer of community support. Along with strengthening peer relationships between students, this can also benefit broader school communities.
[Program events] are a chance to talk with other parents about struggles they and their kids are having. It showed me I’m not failing as a parent. It’s just a struggle.
Girls and boys are hanging out together in and out of school because they hung out in [out-of-school time program] and connecting parents to the school through the arts has been powerful. … all of this has made [the school] a more welcoming place for families.
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Parents and caregivers, as well as program staff, report that families experience less stress and a sense of relief in knowing that children are getting the help they need in a safe and supportive environment. Parents and caregivers also gain comfort from seeing their children develop more responsibility and life readiness, and from experiencing improved behavior and more positive interactions with their children. Many credit the homework help students receive in programming in minimizing family battles about homework, allowing them to focus on other things together.
Because we work a lot, it’s really comforting because we know [the children] are in school in this program instead of doing things they aren't supposed to.
Some of the math stuff, I don’t even understand. [In programming] there’s someone who can double-check his homework before he turns it in. He can get extra help.
It helps you to have more family time during the weekend because you don’t have to fight with them over homework.
Some parents and caregivers also get to know and understand their young people differently through their participation in out-of-school time programming, by seeing them excel in a particular subject, make new friends, or grow socially or emotionally. Staff also note the value of being a source of positive updates about students, especially for parents and caregivers who are used to hearing from schools only when things are going poorly.
[I’ve] definitely heard things like “I can't believe how much better my kids’ behavior is at home. My kids explain things to me.” Kids are … opening up at home.
I had a conversation with a parent last week, with a boy who gets in trouble [in school] frequently. He was one of the kids that won the “best helper” award. I was calling her to ask her about a permission slip, and when we were talking, she said, “Oh, I heard [X] won an award,” and I was like, “Yeah, he did. He's the best helper.” And she was like, “Wow, he’s never won an award before.”
Now when we spend time outside as a family, my son is educating the rest of the family about what he's learned, like what berries are OK to eat!