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Supporting and promoting mental health in out-of-school time

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Supporting and promoting mental health in out-of-school time

The National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment (NCASE) recently released a practice brief, “Supporting and Promoting Mental Health in Out-of-School Time,” that explores some of the current mental health needs of youth, their families, and the out-of-school time (OST) workforce.

Over the last year and a half, both children and adults have had their lives upended. Children’s daily lives were suddenly turned upside down and they missed out on opportunities for in-person learning, extracurriculars, and most importantly, socialization. Parents were dealing with a host of challenges from potential income loss to a new need for childcare. Afterschool program staff had to almost immediately adjust to not only provide virtual programing, but also respond to the needs of the youth and the communities they serve. Trauma and stress was a constant in many people’s lives. 

The brief states that improving and supporting mental health is a collective responsibility. Environments at home, school, and work should be conducive to supporting mental health by providing social and emotional supports and promoting resilience. Afterschool programs and out-of-school time settings are one space in which the mental health needs of children, their families, and the OST workforce can be supported. Afterschool programs can also incorporate the four features of environments that researchers have identified that encourage positive mental health:

  1. Minimization of toxic social and biological conditions
  2. Reinforcement of diverse pro-social behaviors
  3. Limiting opportunities and influences for problem behavior
  4. Promoting psychological flexibility in the pursuit of one’s values and goals

As the brief highlights, afterschool programs are uniquely positioned to support mental health and social and emotional development of youth. Through social and emotional focused activities and targeted skill building, afterschool programs can help build protective factors and behaviors for all youth, including those who may have an unidentified mental health need. As the brief points out, while most mental illnesses begin before age 14, they are not diagnosed until 10 years later. A

The brief notes that afterschool programs do not only support youth, but also their families and the OST staff. Many programs offer opportunities for family engagement, which can take place through family activities, discussions, or support groups. Some even provide direct supports for parents that can include access to a therapist or other health and wellness services. When it comes to the OST workforce, afterschool programs can and should be supporting staff. Staff are expected to respond to the needs of youth and the communities they serve, while also struggling to meet their own needs. The principles of trauma-informed care can be applied to the staff to support and promote self-care practices. Staff wellbeing is essential in order to provide the best care possible for youth.

Throughout the brief, examples are provided of how afterschool programs are addressing mental health needs that states and local jurisdictions can consider for implementation. Examples include:

  • Supporting children: The Oklahoma HOPE Centers, which serve some of the most vulnerable youth in the state, is a collaboration between the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and existing community partners. Each center is required to provide trauma-informed mental and emotional health professionals to work with the youth, as well as a Department of Human Services employee to help families enroll in services and resources they might need. All programs offer social and emotional focused enrichment activities, virtual learning and class work support, and two meals and a snack a day.
  • Supporting families: ACT Now, a statewide afterschool coalition in Illinois, spotlights “WeGo Together for Kids.” WeGo prioritizes providing mental health services for families by subcontracting with three local mental health agencies to bring in mental health professionals that provide prevention, early intervention, home and community-based therapy, crisis intervention, and consultation services to families most in need.
  • Supporting the OST workforce: The New Jersey School-Age Care Coalition offers weekly virtual meetings for OST staff. The meetings typically offer resources around social and emotional learning (SEL) and how to support children’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The brief concludes with a call to prioritize mental health needs and ensure resources are put in place to support these needs. In order to meet the current demand for mental health supports created by the pandemic, the hope is that all those involved in OST programming will consider the different options to support and promote positive mental health.

To learn more about promoting mental health in out-of-school time settings, read the full brief.  

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Help us tell the story of afterschool AND win a chance at a cash prize

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New issue brief: How afterschool is supporting learning and recovery during COVID-19

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4 key takeaways from program providers' summer planning

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BY: Ursula Helminski      01/11/21

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BY: Ursula Helminski      12/16/20

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Survey: 70% of programs are still serving kids during COVID

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BY: Bella DiMarco      09/01/20

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BY: Erin Hegarty      08/28/20

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BY: Erin Hegarty      06/26/20

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BY: Erin Hegarty      05/22/20

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BY: Erin Hegarty      12/19/19

Afterschool turns the peak time for crime into a time of opportunity for young people

For close to 20 years, we at the Afterschool Alliance have been dedicated to the cause of expanding afterschool opportunities because we know the life changing impact programs can have on children, on families, and on communities.  Today, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids released a new report that...

BY: Jodi Grant      10/16/19

New issue brief: Afterschool fostering protective factors

In Colorado, the Montrose Recreation District’s Summer Enrichment Program creates a welcoming environment to help students feel safe to share their feelings. At Jóvenes de Puerto Rico en Riesgo, Inc. (JPRR), also known as Puerto Rico Youth at Risk (PRYR), one-on-one...

BY: Nikki Yamashiro      09/24/19

America After 3PM: Black and Latinx Communities

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BY: Charlotte Steinecke      01/13/21

Grad Nation report highlights challenges, solutions towards a 90% graduation rate

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BY: Bella DiMarco      11/09/20

Closing the Childhood Equity Gap: New report provides a data-driven look into the prioritization of children at the state and local levels

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BY: Erin Hegarty      06/26/20

Engaging the Arts Across the Juvenile Justice System: New report outlines opportunities for engagement

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BY: Erin Hegarty      05/22/20

Afterschool turns the peak time for crime into a time of opportunity for young people

For close to 20 years, we at the Afterschool Alliance have been dedicated to the cause of expanding afterschool opportunities because we know the life changing impact programs can have on children, on families, and on communities.  Today, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids released a new report that...

BY: Jodi Grant      10/16/19

New issue brief: Afterschool fostering protective factors

In Colorado, the Montrose Recreation District’s Summer Enrichment Program creates a welcoming environment to help students feel safe to share their feelings. At Jóvenes de Puerto Rico en Riesgo, Inc. (JPRR), also known as Puerto Rico Youth at Risk (PRYR), one-on-one...

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