Number of Kids Home Alone After School Has Risen

Still Not Enough Affordable Afterschool Programs to Keep Pace with Demand

America After 3 PM.

Millions of school-age kids are going home to an empty house after school, and the number of kids home alone has actually increased over the past five years even as afterschool care is more plentiful.

The Afterschool Alliance conducted a national household survey of early 30,000 families in 2009 to learn how many children participate in afterschool programs, how many are unsupervised after school, and how these numbers compare to five years ago.

The America After 3PM study sponsored by the JC Penney Afterschool Fund essentially found that while afterschool programs today are serving significantly more children than in 2004, more children today are home alone after school, and that the demand for safe, quality and affordable options is higher than ever. 

Key findings

  • About 26 percent of America's school-aged children are on their own after the school day ends until a parent returns home from work. The percentage of children left on their own in the afternoons has increased in the past five years from 14.3 million in 2004 to 15.1 million in 2009.
  • There is a growing awareness that children are at particular risk during the afternoon hours from a safety and "poor choices" point of view. In addition, kids who are home alone and remaining inside the house (which most are directed to do) often spend the time eating junk food, watching television, and not participating in any physically-active or academic work during these hours. A lack of healthy eating and physical exercise is contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic, which is starting at an earlier age than ever before.
    • Today, 30 percent of middle school students (3,722,219) and 4 percent of elementary school children (1,133,989) are unsupervised after school. Increasingly, older-age children may be responsible for caring for their younger siblings after the end of the school day.
    • The availability of afterschool programs has improved in the past five years. This is another example of how child care trends are changing across the nation. But the report indicates that there are still not enough programs to keep pace with rising needs. Some program directors say it is a juggling act to provide safe and affordable after-school care with activities that are enticing to the middle-school age with enough participants to make it cost effective.
      • Fifteen percent of children currently participate in afterschool programs, a 4 percent increase from 2004. Parents of 18.5 million children not currently participating in afterschool programs say they would enroll their children if a program were available to stem--a significant increase from the 30 percent who responded similarly in 2004.
      • Cost, especially during today's tough economic times, makes paying for afterschool child care programs more challenging. Some parents don't put their kids in afterschool care programs--even though they know it would keep their kids more safe--because they simply can't afford to do so. On average, parents who pay for afterschool programs pay $67 per week, up from an average of $44 per child per week five years ago.

      Parents need to carefully consider the pros and cons of having a child stay home alone after school and to know whether a youngster is truly old and mature enough to be unsupervised after school. Additional information about the report can be viewed by going to the Afterschool Alliance website.

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