For almost 40 years, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) has supported the work of afterschool programs to protect young people and promote safe communities. While just one part of the whole JJDPA picture, funding for evidence-based afterschool programs has empowered communities to implement innovative programs that provide opportunities to engage young people in their own futures. This week, JJDPA will be on our minds as more than one million Americans and thousands of communities nationwide celebrate Lights On Afterschool, an annual event that helps to raise awareness about the need for afterschool programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families.
The JJDPA was one of the first federal legislative efforts to clearly link quality afterschool programming to prevention of youth crime and violence. Within Title V of the law, Incentive Grants for Local Delinquency Prevention Programs fund a range of innovative and effective initiatives that bring together communities to provide mentoring and engaging activities for young people. A cost effective alternative to detention and incarceration, prevention and early intervention efforts like afterschool programs during the peak hours of youth crime (3:00pm-7:00pm) keep young people safe while engaging in learning opportunities ranging from dance, gardening and spoken word, to robotics and building solar powered cars. Increasingly these programs are a setting for hands-on, social-emotional learning that help young people develop the skills they need to succeed in school and in life.
Detention and incarceration costs taxpayers’ far more than providing youth support through non-residential community-based programs. A 2007 study by the UCLA National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing found that children who attended LA’s BEST afterschool program were 30 percent less likely to participate in criminal activities than their peers who did not attend the program. Researchers estimate that every dollar invested in the LA’s BEST program saves the city $2.50 in crime-related costs. A 2009 Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) review of a decade of afterschool program research and evaluation studies confirms that children and youth who participate in afterschool programs can reap a host of positive benefits in a number of interrelated outcome areas – academic, social-emotional, prevention and health and wellness.
As parents, educators, young people and elected officials gather to celebrate the power of afterschool programs as part of Lights On Afterschool this week, many will take action in support of federal policies like JJDPA that make quality out of school time programs possible. This week is the perfect opportunity to send a message to Congress, after it ends the government shutdown: it’s time to reauthorize and fund JJDPA. Here’s how can you help.
This commentary will be cross posted as part of the JJDPA Matters Blog Project, a 16-week series that spotlights how the landmark JJDPA law keeps youth and communities safer. You can find the full series in the JJDPA Matters Action Center.
Erik Peterson is Policy Director for the Afterschool Alliance, a national nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, that works to ensure all children and young people have access to affordable, quality afterschool and summer learning programs.