Cutting Programs Puts Kids at Risk

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About a week ago, I attended a National Night Out celebration hosted by the Columbus Urban League. It was a perfect summer night with music playing, and the smell of hot dogs and hamburgers cooking, and moms, dads and kids strolling and laughing along historic Mt. Vernon Avenue.

For those of you who are not familiar with National Night Out, it is a nationwide event that helps raise awareness about how residents work together to reduce crime and drug use in their neighborhoods.

Columbus neighborhoods started participating in National Night Out over 20 years ago by simply encouraging people turn on their porch lights and go out to meet their neighbors during the 8:00 pm hour.

Back in the day, I worked for a few organizations that targeted services to central city neighborhoods. Many of these groups organized National Night Out events to draw attention their other community safety initiatives like after school programs. These after-school and other youth programs provide education and recreational activities that keep kids out of trouble. But planned federal funding cuts may jeopardize many after-school programs.

According to the national advocacy group, Fight Crime: Raise Kids, Congress is considering a proposal to cut federal funds for after-school programs by 40 percent, from $1 billion a year to $600 million. They also say that these reductions will result in about a half million children across the country losing access to after-school programs. The group predicts crime will increase, costing taxpayers and crime victims $2.4 billion dollars.

The Fight Crime: Raise Kids organization, whose members include law enforcement agencies and educators, estimates ten million children are currently left unsupervised after school each year. Studies show that after-school hours are the prime time for juvenile crime. Reducing access to high-quality afterschool programs could cause more than a half a million children to be at-risk of getting involved with juvenile crime and other risky behaviors.

Law enforcement and education experts agree that quality after-school programs have been shown to decrease crime, drug use and teen pregnancy. By giving students opportunities for academic enrichment, safe fun and community service, these initiatives increase high school graduation rates and college enrollment of the young people they serve.

Locally, the City of Columbus created the Capital Kids after school program in 2000. Capital Kids, which operates from four city recreation centers, combines homework help, recreational activities and parental involvement.

As we approach a new school year, it is not clear how federal and city budget woes will affect not only the Capital Kids, but other neighborhood-based programs as well.

Let us hope that these programs continue receive the support they need. These kids, and the neighborhoods served by after school and other safety programs, need the same encouragement experienced annually during National Night Out everyday.