December 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 6 // Feature Articles // 6FEA1

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A Profile of School-Age Care Programs

This study provides a profile of school-age care (SAC) programs in North Carolina. The purpose was to determine the characteristics of school-age care programs and staff. A survey instrument of 22 questions was mailed to 3,052 school-age care providers in North Carolina; 486 surveys (16%) were returned. Responses were received from 89 of the 100 counties in North Carolina. Major characteristics identified by the study include sponsoring agencies; number and ages of children served; staff size, educational level, and income; and operational functions of the programs. School-age care programs can be improved through a partnership of parents, communities, employers, and various levels of government. Areas needing the greatest attention are staff qualifications and training opportunities, better salaries for staff, improved staff to child ratios, and standards that help describe best practices.

Barbara Vandenbergh
4-H School-Age Care Public Awareness Project Coordinator
Internet address:

Eddie Locklear
Department Extension Leader
Internet address:

North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina


In the mid 1980's the Cooperative Extension Service developed the School-Age Child Care Consortium to help address the American families' need for quality school-age care for their children while parents worked. The Consortium provided leadership to a national movement to position Cooperative Extension as a leader in helping to improve the quality and availability of school-age care for children ages 5 to 14. In the early 1990's the Cooperative Extension's National Network for Child Care was established to expand the early efforts of the Consortium by including children, birth through five years old. In May 1999, the Cooperative Extension System created the National Child Care Initiative to address the continuing need for child care.

Before and after-school care, or school-age care (SAC), as it is commonly called, has become a way of life for most families in America. Current economic conditions have resulted in an increase in families with both parents in the workforce. According to Meyers and Kyle (1996), nearly 75% of mothers with children ages 6 to 17 were in the labor force in 1993. Over 25 million school-age children need care while their parents work (Meyers & Kyle, 1996). In a study of 1,175 public school principals, 84% said children needed before and after-school care (National Association of Elementary School Principals, 1993).

The need for school-age care is also growing because of problems associated with leaving children home alone. Children in unsupervised situations face problems of accidents, death, suicide, teen pregnancy, diminished school performance, drug and alcohol abuse, academic failure and negative peer pressure, limited social interaction, lack of social skill development, and limited cognitive development (Locklear, 1992). A 1987 Harris opinion poll found that many teachers felt that students' difficulties in school are associated with their being "left on their own after school" (National Association of Elementary School Principals, 1993). Vandell and Corasanti (1988) found that children in 20 or more hours of school-age care per week are more likely to succeed in school.

In addition to providing for the health and welfare of children during non-school hours, educators realize that there are other benefits associated with quality school-age care programs. According to Posner and Vandell (cited in National Association of Elementary School Principals, 1993), after-school programs for children in low-income areas help improve children's self-esteem, social skills, and academic performance. Locklear, et al. (1994), in a national study of 76 school-age care programs in 16 states, found that youth involved with school-age care programs supported by Cooperative Extension showed improvements in social skills and academic performance, and showed a decrease in behavior problems. Similar benefits were found in an inner-city Baltimore program (Allen, Brown, & Finlay, 1994).

Although there are many benefits associated with school-age care programs, there is a lack of data that describe the characteristics of these programs. Knowing the characteristics of programs will help identify areas that may need additional attention, such as staff salary, work experience, and educational level and program operations. Because most states, including North Carolina, do not register after-school programs, it is problematic to ascertain the characteristics of many school-age programs in America. This study is a beginning. The study was designed to identify characteristics of school-age care programs in North Carolina.


The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service worked with The Department of Health and Human Services, the North Carolina School-Age Care Coalition, the Resource and Referral Network, the Governor's Support Our Students Initiative, and the Department of Public Instruction to secure contact information for school-age care programs in North Carolina.

Sample survey questions were distributed to over 20 school-age care professionals for comments. Based on their responses, a survey instrument of 22 questions was prepared. The questions were divided into four categories: information about the sponsoring agency, specifics about the children who attend, a profile of staff, and program operations.

Three thousand fifty-two (3,052) surveys were sent to school-age care staff in public schools, churches, and other sponsoring agencies such as YMCA, YWCA, Support Our Students (SOS), and private schools. The Division of Child Development provided a mailing list of 2,225 names of licensed child care providers who offer school-age care services. Anonymity was assured the respondents. The surveys were color-coded in order to ascertain the return rate of each group of respondents. The respondent groups were: child care centers, Department of Public Instruction programs, North Carolina School-Age Care Coalition members, programs registered with the Resource and Referral network, and the Governor's SOS (middle school) initiative.

Postage paid return mail was provided to the respondents in order to have as high a return rate as possible. Of the 3,052 surveys mailed, 486 (16%) were returned and formed the basis for this report. Responses were received from 89 of the 100 counties in North Carolina.


Sponsoring Agencies

The types of sponsoring agencies for school-age care in the study vary widely (Table 1), with churches and schools providing the majority of programs.

Table 1
Types of Sponsoring Agencies

Churches 20%
Public Schools 16%
Private Schools 15%
Private Non-Profits 12%
Support Our Students 9%
Child Care Centers 7%
Other 21%

Of the programs, 73% were licensed, and 27% were not licensed. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the licensed programs have an "A" license; 26% an "AA" license; and 7% have certification from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Two percent did not indicate a license type. Of those who responded that they were not licensed, 31.0% replied that licensing would require facility upgrades; 14.3% reported no barriers; 14.3% felt it was unnecessary; and 11.9% had never tried.

Children Who Attend School-Age Care:

The average number of children enrolled in programs was between 10 and 50. The age range of the children varied, with the youngest being five years old and the oldest being 14 years old. Middle school age children were included in 45% of the programs, and 68% indicated that they include special needs children in their programs. Subsides were used to support children in 68.3% of the programs. The source of the subsidy varied; 58.3% of the respondents reported the Department of Social Services as the source of the subsidy and 8.4% as Child Care Resources. Other responses to this question included parent fees and Support Our Students funds.

Staff of School-Age Care Programs:

An almost equal number of programs reported having 1 to 3 (22.3%) and 4 to 6 (22.1%) staff members. A staff size of more than 15 was reported by 66 centers (16.22%). Staff sizes of 7 to 14 were reported by 39.38% of the respondents.

Research has shown that staff training is one of the most important components of high-quality programs (Helburn et al., 1995). Over 94% of respondents reported that they required training for staff, and 85.9% said that they paid for the training. An average of 17.6 hours of training was required annually. The agencies reported as providing most of the training were the Community College System (24.7%), Cooperative Extension Service (19.0%), and the Red Cross (13.6%). When asked what topics were most needed for training, the top two responses were arts and crafts (25.3%) and behavior management (21.7%).

Many of the school-age care staff had limited experience in the field (see Table 2). Seventy-four percent (74%) of teachers had less than 5 years of experience in their school-age work. Directors have more work experience than teachers, with 54% reporting more than five years of experience.

Table 2
Work Experience of School-Age Care Staff

Experience of Staff Teachers Directors
Less than 6 months 28% 6%
6 months to 5 years 46% 40%
5 to 9 years 18% 25%
10 years or more 8% 29%


Educational levels varied among staff (see Table 3). The majority of teachers (37%) had a high school diploma, and 12% had four-year college degrees. Directors' educational levels were higher, with 29% of directors indicating they had a four-year degree.

Table 3
Educational Level of School-Age Care Staff*

Educational Level Teachers Directors
High school diploma 37% 18%
Some college courses 31% 17%
Two-year college degree 7% 14%
Four-year college degree 12% 29%
* Percentage is less than 100% due to non-responses.

In addition to educational levels, the respondents were asked which state or national credentials the staff held (CDA, NC Credential I, and NC Credential II). For teachers, the largest number held the NC Credential I (48.1%), followed by NC Credential II (43.0%) and CDA (8.9%). Directors were evenly divided between NC Credential I and NC Credential II, with 15.7% holding a CDA.

Salary is an important factor for retaining staff in school-age care programs. The majority of teachers made between $5.00 and $7.00 per hour (53.0%) (see Table 4). The highest percentage of directors received $7.00 to $10.00 per hour (50.0%). Nearly 20% of directors were compensated less than $7.00 per hour for directing a program.

Table 4
Salaries of School-Age Care Staff

Range of Salary Teachers Directors
$4.25 - $5.00 22% 20%
$5.00 - $7.00 53%  
$7.00 - $10.00 22% 50%
Above $10.00 3% 30%

Program Operations

Other important components of school-age care programs include length of operation, space, snacks, and transportation. The majority of the programs operated year-round (86%), used shared space (66%), and provided snacks (97%). Twelve percent of the programs operated only during the school year, and 2% operated only during the summer. Transportation to the sites was provided by 43% of the programs, and 15% of the programs provided transportation home. The cost for snacks was $1.50 per child per day.

To maintain the interest of school-age children, a program must offer a diversity of activities. To organize the responses about what activities were offered on a typical day, questions were classified into physical, intellectual, and social/emotional categories. Art was the one specific activity most frequently offered (24.3%) by school-age care programs followed by games (21.0%), outdoor play (8.1%), and field trips (7.6%).

A median of one hour was spent in outdoor play, homework, and free choice activities. Smaller amounts of time (20 to 30 minutes) were spent having snacks and special presentations. Some activities clearly overlap (e.g., basketball was a physical, social, intellectual and emotional activity). The largest number of responses fell into the physical and intellectual categories. Physical may activities include games, sports, and dance. Intellectual activities may include homework, puzzles, computer activities, and reading exercises. These two categories were almost equal in time. Social/emotional activities were a distant third.

The ratio of staff to child is an important predictor of quality in school-age care programs (Helburn et al., 1995). In programs of high quality, staff greet children, integrate them into activities, initiate conversations with them, ask questions, encourage social interaction, and, in general, respond to the children in a warm and friendly manner. To achieve this, a staff child ratio of 1 to 15 or better must be maintained. Currently, the allowable ratio in North Carolina is 1 to 25.

Respondents were asked how their programs would be affected if child/staff ratios were decreased from 1/25. As indicated in Table 5, the majority of the programs would not be adversely affected if child/staff ratios were reduced because 68% of the programs already have lower ratios.

Table 5
Impact on Programs If Child/Staff Ratios Were Reduced*

Already have a lower ratio 68%
Would raise fees 21%
Reduce number of children served 15%
Seek more funding 10%
Close the program 2%
* Percentage exceeds 100% due to multiple answers.

Some programs offered additional services to families. When school-age care staff were asked what other services they offered to families, the highest response was that they offered parent services such as: training, counseling, referrals, GED programs, and literacy training. The programs also offered additional child care on teacher workdays, evening care, early drop-off, and summer vacation care. Additional financial aid was also mentioned in the form of scholarships and a sliding fee scale. Some programs offered piano lessons, dance/gymnastics, children's choirs, and library groups. At least one program offered a "drive home" snack.

Summary and Recommendations

The results of this survey provide an overview of school-age care in North Carolina. Although the response rate was 16%, the 486 respondents from 89 of the 100 North Carolina counties provided valuable insight on the characteristics of after-school programs. The data indicate that churches and public schools were providing most of the care and that programs averaged between 10 to 50 children per day. The majority of teachers had less than 5 years of experience, had a high school diploma, and were paid between $5.00 and $7.00 per hour. Directors were paid only slightly more ($7.00 - $10.00 per hour), and 29% had four-year degrees. An average of 17.6 hours per year of training was required of staff. Eighty-six percent of programs operated year-round, and 65% shared the space for their programs with the host facility.

Data about the education level, low pay scale, and work environment may help to explain the high turnover rate that exists in school-age care, about 43% for teaching staff in school-age care programs in North Carolina (Lyons and Russell, 1998). High staff turnover, lack of experience, and low salaries continue to plague school-age care programs nationwide. The results of this study indicate a need to focus more attention on staff salaries, educational level of staff, and activities provided to youth in after-school programs.

In order to address the issues of educational level, staff salaries, and program quality, NSACA (National School-Age Care Alliance) has developed national standards that describe "best practice" in out-of-school programs for children and youth between the ages of 5 and 14. Many school-age care providers are looking toward the accreditation system to illustrate the standard of quality they have achieved. Other staffs are using the standards to improve the quality of their school-age care programs.

The authors recommend that a cooperative effort be made by all individuals responsible for achieving the quality of care children deserve. The Cooperative Extension Service will continue to work with the collaborators who provided contact information for this study to address the needs of after-school staff, with special emphasis on educational level and compensation. Furthermore, parents, communities, governments, and businesses should form a partnership to improve the child care system.

Parents can help by becoming knowledgeable about:

  • the various child care options available to them;
  • what constitutes quality child care; and
  • how to play an advocacy role in improving and expanding school-age care.

Communities can help by:

  • developing inter-agency, multi-disciplinary coalitions to assess local needs for school-age care and
  • devising creative programs to meet their unique child care needs.

The federal and state governments can help by:

  • expanding their role in regulating, monitoring, and financing a child care delivery system;
  • basing action on sound standards of care; and
  • monitoring progress.

Employers can help by:

  • rethinking their traditional benefit plans and employment policies to include school-age child care assistance.

The economy depends upon working mothers and fathers. Parents and children need and deserve high-quality, affordable, accessible care. Although more research is needed to help design ways to support school-age care staff, this survey provides a profile of school-age care in one state and indicates areas that can be addressed to improve the quality of school-age care in America.


Allen, M., Brown, P., & Finlay, B. (1994). Helping children by strengthening families. Washington, DC: Children's Defense Fund.

Helburn, S., Howes, C., Bryant, D., Kagan, S.L., et al. (1995). Cost, quality and child outcomes in child care centers. Executive Summary. Denver, CO: University of Colorado at Denver.

Locklear, E.L., Riley, D., Steinberg, J., Todd, C., Junge, S., & McClain, I. (1994). Preventing problem behaviors and raising academic performance in North Carolina children: The impacts of school-age child care programs supported by the University Extension Service. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

Locklear, E.L. (1992). The impact of the 4-H System Manager Training on child care providers' perceptions of quality school-age child care. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.

Lyons, J.D., & Russell, S.D. (1998). Working in school-age care, a summary of school-age workforce issues, Chapel Hill, NC: Day Care Services Association.

Meyers, J., & Kyle, J.E. (1996). Critical needs, critical choices: A survey on children and families in America's cities. A Research Report of the National League of Cities. Washington, DC: National League of Cities.

National Association of Elementary School Principals. (1993). Standards for quality school-age child care. Alexandria, VA: National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Vandell, D. & Corasanti, M.A. (1988). The relation between third graders' after-school care and social academic and emotional functioning. Child Development, 59, 868-872.