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Jane Quinn has been working for the past three decades to improve the quality of youth development programs and services and to increase access to them in low-income communities. A practitioner and author, Jane has played an integral role in helping to shape policies and programs in the out-of-school time field. Prior to her current position as Assistant Executive Director for Community Schools Partnerships at the Children’s Aid Society in New York, Jane was Program Director for the DeWitt-Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund. She also was principal author of “A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in the Nonschool Hours”, a national report prepared by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. Jane spoke with us about how the after school field has evolved since this report came out in 1992 and what she thinks the future holds.

What was the thinking behind the Carnegie Corporation’s development of A Matter of Time report?

When designing A Matter of Time our goal was to give it a policy hook, and I think in large part we were successful. There were a lot of options for what approach to take, and it took us a while to even define the universe we were going to study and to set some fences around it. From its inception, however, we wanted it to be a study about the factors that influence and support healthy adolescent development.

Our challenge was how to get this notion to resonate with policy makers and the public. We had been talking to people about promoting kids’ normal socialization and their healthy development. These were issues that the public understood, but we thought the information was going to put people to sleep because what we were trying to get at was so basic. We were also looking at community-based organizations and we knew that doing so was not going to resonate very strongly with policy makers. One option we considered was to take the risk and prevention angle, which is a valid argument, but we were really trying to make another point, about promoting opportunity for youth. Therefore, the Carnegie task force—including members of the Child Welfare League of America, Catholic Charities USA, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and public officials—and I discussed how we could present the research to policy makers and the public in a way that would engage them. And that’s how we arrived at the issue of time. It took us several months to come up with that angle, but once we did, everybody was really happy with it.

Since that time, in what ways do you think the after school field has changed?

During the period that we were producing A Matter of Time, the out-of-school time field was an under-studied, untapped, but fertile field for researchers. I think there has been a lot of good news in the research since A Matter of Time was published in December 1992. For instance, the 1994 evaluation of the Quantum Opportunities Program showed a host of positive results and its approach is very consistent with the core components of a positive youth development program: academic enrichment and remediation, community service, academic and career counseling, adult mentors, and positive peer relationships. That study showed what can happen when you put all the pieces together for a very high-risk population. Another example is the 1995 study of Big Brothers/Big Sisters by Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) that received a lot of visibility and helped put mentoring on the map.

There’s another, very different kind of study that was conducted by Public/Private Ventures, entitled Safe Havens. In this study, P/PV found that selected affiliates of three national youth organizations—Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Girls, Inc., and the YMCA—offered young people the kinds of experiences that are known to foster positive growth across different developmental domains. In an era where people are becoming fixated on very narrow dimensions of children’s cognitive development, these programs are demonstrating that you can address multiple domains.

Another tremendously important line of research is found in the studies by Deborah Vandell which document the positive benefits of children’s participation in high quality after school programs. These benefits include better grades, work habits, emotional adjustment, and peer relations. These are all outcomes that society cares a great deal about and we have to keep talking about them because, in our heart of hearts, we all know it is not just about grades. It is also about work habits, emotional adjustment, and human relationships.

Another landmark study is Community Counts by Milbrey McLaughlin. Its design is unique in that the authors started with kids as key informants, and asked them “lead us to the places in your communities that you think are good for kids.” From there, they assessed what kids who participate regularly and are deeply engaged get out of those experiences. Participation and engagement are important issues because development is an ongoing process, and dosage makes a difference in development.

All of these studies are looking at multiple outcomes that matter. None of the outcomes are inconsequential. However, they are not the narrow ones that schools and policy makers are increasingly fixated on. There is no question that these are important outcomes, but they are not the only ones to measure.

Another important thing about these studies is that they all have shown that multiple positive benefits are predicated on quality. We cannot assume that multiple, positive benefits are just going to happen: we have to really invest in quality.

Where do we go from here?

I think one of our greatest challenges is consistently applying what we already know. For example, the issue of access in out-of-school time is huge, and I don’t think we as a society are paying enough attention to it. It is very important to acknowledge the fact that poor kids are much more likely to go to schools with uncertified teachers, watered-down curricula, in violent and unsafe neighborhoods, and are much less likely to have access to enriching experiences or safe places in the non-school hours and to have access to everything that makes a difference in helping them achieve productive adulthood.

How can we get what we know about the importance of after school into the “water supply” of public ideas?

I think people of good will have to keep talking about what we know. They really have to focus on this construct of children’s learning and development, and then apply what is known. There are a lot of very smart, reasonable people all saying the same thing.

The public plays an important role in this, and that’s why I was so thrilled to see the C.S. Mott Foundation poll on after school because it contained information that the public understands and can relate to. When the Carnegie Corporation put A Matter of Time out, not everyone was quite ready for it. Janet Reno took to it right away, as did a lot of the public, but the media wasn’t quite as enamored because it wasn’t dramatic. We made a conscious choice to not tie it to the crime rates, even though there is a case to be made for that approach. There have been numerous events since then that have helped to get these ideas into the water supply. Certainly the changes in the welfare laws have something to do with it. People’s belated understanding of what was being said in A Nation at Risk contributed too. Public awareness of several issues is now converging in the out-of-school time field: many children in this country are not learning what they need to learn and are not developing the skills that they need to develop; parents need child care; and the juvenile crime and victimization rate rises after school. I think another factor that’s helping us is that there are more women in elected leadership positions, and they understand this.

Increasingly, people are realizing that to effect real change at multiple levels, it is necessary to break down the barriers that often separate policy makers, practitioners, and researchers. In the past you have quoted Jane Addams as saying “effective social workers should keep one foot in the library and one foot in the street.” What does this quote mean to you?

She saw herself as a change agent. She didn’t see herself only as a practitioner, or only as a researcher, or only as a policy maker, although she was all three things. She was talking about a different way of thinking about your role as a person, as a professional. One of the things I really love about that quote, is its notion of balance. There’s an intentionality in her thinking that we all need to have. The notion of being able to move from one world to another, and to bridge one world to the other, is what everybody should do.

What does that mean for an evaluator or researcher?

First of all, some of it has to do with “what’s their training? What discipline are they coming from?” The evaluators that I have worked with come from many different disciplines and I think that’s a strength. What is underlying a lot of the tension is a sense that somehow, evaluation is a higher calling than practice or that policy making is a higher calling. I don’t view it that way. Rather, I view it as kind of a partnership. Some of the best evaluations that I have seen have been very deliberate in thinking about their relevance to policy. For instance they ask, “if this intervention works, what are we going to do with the results?” I think the best evaluations are done by people who really know how to listen to practitioners, and who see themselves as having a role in informing practice. Therefore, this notion of having “a foot in both the library and the street” is really tremendously important, and it’s the stance that all of us need to take. It isn’t just advice for social workers.

The Carnegie Corporation has been terrific about bringing organizations together. We were very intentional in putting together the task force for A Matter of Time, to make sure that we had practitioners, researchers, and policy makers represented in that group. People kept commenting how unusual that was, to have that experience of working together over a long period of time, to think a problem through together and to bring the different perspectives to bear on that. There really are very few forums for this way of working. I think we’re so specialized that when we go to professional conferences we talk to ourselves. We have to be planful because this change in operations is not going to happen by itself. We have to ask policy makers, “what is it you need to know to make good policy?” I don’t think that’s happening very often.

As you’ve said, there is currently great pressure for after school programs to show academic outcomes. Do you think there is a way to balance the things programs are accountable for, with a realism about what these programs can really do?

If we go back to basic constructs such as “what do we know about children’s growth and development? what do we know about children’s learning and development?” and build out from there, we’re going to be okay. That’s where I think developmental research is so helpful because we know about the tasks, the strengths, and the needs at various stages. We can go back to what we know, and we all have to be honest, if not modest, about the issue of what our core competencies are and be careful not to over promise, not to take on tasks that we are not qualified to take on.

But I think it’s also really important to look at the balance in our out-of-school time programs, around a whole set of issues that influence children’s learning and development, and not to forget the development part of it. Out-of-school time provides a great opportunity to work on kids’ excitement about and engagement in learning, while we and schools are paying attention to the inter-relatedness of the multiple domains of development. Otherwise we are not really doing our job.

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