By Owen Charters, President & CEO, BGC Canada
November 14, 2023
During our recent Day on the Hill in Ottawa, we met with a number of federal government officials. The purpose of these meetings was to emphasize our 2024 pre-budget submission, where we’re calling on all parties to recognize the importance of after-school time and to ensure that all youth have the supports they need to thrive in this era of increasing uncertainty.
Why is after-school care so important?
The after-school hours are often the most vulnerable time of day for young people – it’s vital they have safe places to go. Families seek out care not just because they need their kids to be supervised while they work, but because those hours are precious and vital to creating opportunities for exploration and development. It might be music lessons, sports, learning to code, dance, art studio, martial arts, or any other activities parents seek out for their children. It’s play dates, homework, and quiet time.
How do BGC Clubs stand out?
One of the important distinctions about what BGC Clubs do is spend quality AND quantity time with children and youth. Parents who think that they can get away with just spending quality time with their kids quickly find out that this approach doesn’t work—kids don’t work on your schedule. They need to spend lots of time with you, and moments in those periods can become significant, but you can’t create quality through an appointment!
Kids spend hours in Clubs every day. They are not periodic or incidental—these experiences are consistent, daily engagements for significant periods—where Club programs, staff and volunteers can have a major influence on the lives of young people. Because of this, our Clubs play an outsized role in the lives of the young people who enter our doors, and that influence is critical in offering kids the tools, skills, and experiences to take advantage of the opportunities that life will offer them academically, economically, and socially.
Youth needs are changing
In recent years, youth needs have changed dramatically, and Clubs have grown with them. Instead of just a quick after-school snack, Clubs now provide nearly six million meals per year – in too many cases, the only meal of the day. On top of recreation and sports programs, we offer mental health support and increasingly direct access to therapists. And where Clubs were founded to provide a safe space for youth outside of school hours, some Clubs even provide youth housing.
Why is after-school care so hard to access?
We did a recent study with Abacus Data and found that at least one third of Canadian families don’t have access to before and after-school care. Our Clubs are often located in communities that are disproportionately impacted by poverty – and while we do offer programming for free or at greatly reduced rates, our own staff capacity challenges are meaning that we have fewer spaces to offer. Add to that the impact of inflation and cost-of-living increases, families are finding it harder to pay for groceries let alone out-of-school care.
Every parent wants the best possible opportunities for their children. And they struggle with being
present for their kids while balancing the needs of jobs, careers, and the many demands of life. The
patchwork of services that fill the out-of-school space is entirely difficult to navigate – each parent
hopes they are offering the best they can, but worries that it’s not enough, it’s not the right thing, and
that things could change at any time – prices increase, programs close, wait lists are long, or their child
doesn’t have access to a walkable after-school provider.
A more comprehensive approach to out-of-school time is vital. Our ask to government was a foot in the door, a chance to express that more families and communities need BGC Clubs’ out of school services.