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  1. Youth Topics
  2. Afterschool Programs
  3. Starting, Operating, and Sustaining an Afterschool Program

Starting, Operating, and Sustaining an Afterschool Program

Starting an afterschool program can be a difficult task, particularly in areas where funding and support are scarce. It needs a combination of research and planning; developing program vision mission, design, and continuous improvement systems; workforce development; licensing; policies; and protocols; and risk management. It also highlights the importance of the role that community intermediaries play in supporting cross-sector partnerships among various stakeholders through a systems approach.

A few considerations to build high-quality afterschool programs include:

Research and Planning: Initiating a task force that represents various local stakeholder groups and individuals committed to the cause of starting an afterschool program can support the initial research and planning process. This includes conducting a needs assessment through surveys, interviews, and focus groups to determine types of afterschool programs needed in the community, leveraging existing resources, and identifying systems and supports that need to be established.

Funding and Budgeting: Most programs will likely need some start-up funding to get off the ground. Communities need to learn about federal, state, or local funds as well as look for private and in-kind donations to support afterschool programs. Programs will also need to budget for both start-up and daily operating costs keeping in mind the ability to pay for these programs.

State Regulations: States have minimum licensing requirements that apply to programs serving children, including afterschool programs. These requirements typically vary for types of providers, and often include separate requirements for school-age care settings. Programs should contact their state's licensing agency to find out about the requirements. Private and public funding may also have separate requirements.

Partnerships: Developing a collaborative cross-sector partnership that includes schools, juvenile systems, social service and other such allied youth fields1 is important to leverage the multiple settings where learning happens. School-OST partnership is even more essential to recruit students, improve staff engagement, enable alignment of a shared vision of learning, and maximize resource usage like facilities, staff, data, curriculum, etc.2

Vision and Mission: Programs need to develop a collaborative vision and mission that is inclusive of families, youth, schools, community partners, etc., for what success looks and feels like for young people. It is also essential to consider that the learning setting is developmentally appropriate, safe and supportive, built on positive relationships, and meets the needs and interests of young people.3

Organizational Structures, Policies and Protocols: Programs should also consider if they want to organize as a government, non-profit, for-profit, school-based organization, or partner with existing national or local organizations. It is essential to develop policies and protocols for enrollment, staffing, transportation, family engagement, behavior management, food, health and safety, and reporting of child abuse.

High-Quality Programming and Continuous Quality Improvement Systems: There is a growing body of information on curricula and activities for afterschool programs and providers. However, it is important that programs implement evidence-based practices, or core components in order to evaluate whether they have attained their intended outcomes. Building a quality continuous improvement system that is nested in a low-stakes accountability approach that provides supports to staff to build their capacity.4 Some researchers also reason that developmental relationships between young people and adults may be more important than any particular curriculum or program element in successful afterschool programs.5

For more information about starting a program, contact your state Lead Agency for Child Care. Other national and local foundations and intermediaries have also provided roadmaps for building afterschool systems by bringing together community resources to improve youth outcomes.6


Evidence & Innovation
The Evidence & Innovation website from youth.gov provides comprehensive information and resources on implementing evidence-based programs, including assessing where you are at the moment, how to select programs, implementing and adapting programs, monitoring and evaluating programs, and innovating programs.

Afterschool Toolbox
This toolkit from Afterschool Alliance provides resources and guidance on how to plan and implement an afterschool program. These resources are for new programs and working to grow an already existing program.


1 Yohalem, Pittman, & Edwards, 2010
2 Little, 2011 & 2013
3 National Commission for Social, Emotional, & Academic Development, 2018
4 Smith et al., 2012
5 Li & Julian, 2012
6 Forum for Youth Investment, 2012

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