TALKING IT OVER
November 18, 1998
From the corporate boardroom to the factory floor, from restaurant kitchens to doctors' offices, at 3 o'clock each day, working parents all across America glance anxiously at their watches, wondering whether their children have arrived safely home from school.
Although I was lucky enough to have wonderful caregivers for my daughter when I was a working mother, I still called home every afternoon to assure myself that she was safe and involved in productive activities.
Many working parents have told me how much they wish they could afford to quit work and stay home to take care of their children. The economic reality for many single-parent and low-income families in particular, though, is that they have to work just to make ends meet.
As many as 15 million children are left alone at home after school each week, and for their parents at work, these hours are filled with fear and uncertainty.
Not surprisingly, the period between 2 and 8 p.m. is when children are most likely to get into trouble. This is when most juvenile crime is committed and when a child's risk of becoming a victim of crime is greatest.
In addition, according to a joint report by the Departments of Education and Justice called "Safe and Smart: Making After-School Hours Work for Kids," school-age children who are unsupervised after school are far more likely to use alcohol, drugs and tobacco, receive poor grades and drop out of school than those involved in supervised, constructive activities.
After-school programs offer a wonderful opportunity for children not only to be protected and safe after school but to engage in educational activities as well.
This is why, in the recent budget process, my husband fought so hard for $200 million to invest in high-quality after-school programs. And this is why he will continue to fight for passage of a significant child-care initiative in the next Congress.
Successful after-school programs offer children safe places to do their homework, mentoring in basic skills, and counseling to help keep them away from drugs and violence. They often help middle school students prepare to take college prep courses in high school and provide enrichment in core academic subjects. Finally, they give children the opportunity to play sports, explore the arts and learn with computers.
Last week, less than a month after reaching agreement on a budget for this fiscal year, the President announced funding for 183 new community-based programs across the country -- funding that will give roughly 75,000 more children a place to go other than the streets when school gets out.
Among the recipients is Chicago's Lighthouse program, one of whose facilities I visited last spring. Every day, Lighthouse centers keep 112,000 children in 248 Chicago schools off the streets and out of trouble, while drilling them in math and reading and providing everything from computer instruction to supervised sports and a hot evening meal.
When I met Gabby Brizuela, a 7th-grade student leader at Chicago's Jane Addams School, she told me that she used to spend her afternoons watching TV. Since she enrolled in Lighthouse, she says, her grades have gone up, and she has become more involved in her school. Of the 40 schools that participated in the Lighthouse pilot program, 39 saw student math scores go up, and 30 showed improvement in reading.
Gabby's school has also become part of the city's community policing program. Officers put the school on their regular beat, not only to prevent crime but also to counsel kids, de-escalate conflicts and provide mentoring. And parent volunteers team up to serve on the after-school parent patrol.
As a matter of fact, police all over the country are finding that after-school programs such as these -- programs that actively involve adults as tutors and mentors in the lives of children -- are among the most promising long-term approaches for preventing juvenile violence and delinquency.
The good news is that, thanks to the commitment of this administration and a strong bipartisan effort in Congress, funding is now available for hundreds of programs such as these. The bad news is that there's a long way to go. For every successful program that received a grant last week, seven more applied. In addition, other crucial parts of the President's child-care initiative failed to win support in Congress, leaving nearly 9 million low-income children without access to affordable high-quality child care and after-school programs.
The hours after 3 o'clock don't have to be a time for parents to glance anxiously at their watches. With the right combination of structure, activities, supervision and funding, every child in America can be constructively engaged after school. Let's make sure it happens.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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