The middle childhood years, ages 6 – 12, can be characterized as the forgotten years of childhood, seldom receiving the benefits of public policy, public and private sector investments, and media attention. This is in contrast to children in the early years who benefit from best start programs and early years centres, and teens for whom there have been significant research and program investments to engage and keep them from risky behaviour.
There is some recognition now that focusing on the middle childhood years is important in order to maximize the benefits of the early years investments and to create a solid foundation to meet the challenges of the teen years. It has been suggested that if the problems that arise in the middle years are not addressed, they will continue into adolescence (Schonert-Reichl, 2007:4). In addition, the middle childhood years are themselves a significant developmental period. It is the beginning of the child’s journey into the wider community. For many children, this is their first time going to school formally. As children progress through their middle childhood years, they become more independent of, and have less supervised time with parents/adults (Hanvey, 2002: 6).
Where and how middle years children spend their afterschool hours can have differing effects. In general, afterschool care reduces the amount of time that middle years children are unsupervised by an adult. This is important as research shows that children who are left unsupervised are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviours, become victims of crime and experience academic problems. It is also reported that children aged 6-12 are at the greatest risk of physical assaults during the 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. time period (AuCoin, 2005:6). However, children who are in safe, supportive adult-supervised and engaging after-school programs have positive developmental experiences.
After-school programs provide more than just supervised care. They provide an important learning environment that builds critical cognitive and social skills. Research also shows that the amount of time spent in afterschool programs matters. Those who attend the most hours over the most years benefit more than those who participate in shorter programs or attend less regularly (Miller, 2003, cited in Hanvey, n.d: 16).
Parents working long hours and juggling multiple jobs to keep house and home can struggle to find the right after-school care for their middle years children. Driven by the goal of ensuring access to quality after-school care, in its many forms, for all middle years children, this research takes the first step of developing a database of full-week after-school programs in Toronto and their capacity to accommodate children 6-12 years.
Key Research Findings
- We have identified 21 organizations that operate 534 full-week after-school programs (Monday through Friday) for children aged 6-12 in Toronto. These 534 full-week programs accommodate a total of 18,205 of Toronto’s 192,525 middle years children.
- These full-week after-school programs accommodate just 9.5% of children 6-12 years in Toronto.
- The former city of Toronto has the largest capacity to provide full-week after-school programs with spaces for 15% of all local middle years children. In contrast, former municipalities in the inner suburbs can accommodate between 7% and 9% of local children, with the lowest rate in Scarborough.
- In the seven neighbourhoods with the largest number of children 6-12 years, program capacity is below the city average in every case. Located in the north-west and north-east corners of the city, these neighbourhoods are home to 15% of Toronto’s middle years children but local programs can only accommodate 5% of local children.
- While this research project is a good start, it raises many more questions. What are the after-school circumstances of over 90% of Toronto’s middle years children? Are they well served by family, friends or a patchwork of programs, or unsupervised during the after-school hours? The need for additional research is clear to answer the questions: “Where are they?” “Who are they with?” “What are they doing?"
- Continue to support existing after-school programs and initiatives for children 6-12 years old that are providing quality care.
- Support the development of a Middle Childhood Years Framework which includes policy recommendations. This will fill the policy void for middle childhood years.
- Develop a comprehensive integrated strategy, policy and funding that focuses on the complete developmental continuum of a child from birth through to adulthood including the middle childhood years.
- Work to ensure that middle years children have equal access to high quality after-school programs regardless of where they live.
- Ensure that solid policies, procedures and funding are in place to fully realize the potential of schools as community hubs working with local agencies to deliver after-school programs for middle years children in addition to other vital community programs.
- Build on current research to develop a comprehensive and detailed database of Toronto’s afterschool programs for middle years children including information on program cost, accessibility for children with special needs, program quality, cultural-appropriateness of programs and identification of school-based programs.
- Conduct further research to identify the afterschool situations and needs of Toronto’s 6-12 year olds, who, based on our data, are not in a full-week after-school program in order to answer the questions: “Where are they?” “Who are they with?” “What are they doing?”