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Newspaper: Many South Dakota kids unsupervised after school

August 17, 2018

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Thousands of South Dakota children are left unsupervised after school due to a lack of state funding for after-school and out-of-school activities, according to a newspaper investigation.

Karla Johnson, the incoming director of the South Dakota Afterschool Network, told the Argus Leader that parents have been struggling to find affordable child care in South Dakota for nearly 40 years.

“We’ve kind of shoved (the issue) under a rug and not addressed it,” Johnson said.

More than 1 in 4 South Dakota children are unsupervised after school, according to a recent study by Augustana University and nonprofit Sioux Falls Thrive. The finding means South Dakota has the highest statewide average of unsupervised children in the U.S., compared to the national average ratio of 1 in 5.

After-school programs can improve students’ social skills and mental health, said John Hegg, a school counselor in the Sioux Falls School District.

Unsupervised children often spend hours alone on phones, tablets or computers without having regular face-to-face interaction, Hegg said. The “screen time” can lead to factors that feed an increase in depression, anxiety, loneliness and thoughts of suicide, he said.

The state’s existing after-school programs, many of which already have long waitlists, could face a blow if Congress approves a $3 billion cut to the federal education department as part of next year’s federal budget proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The cut would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program, which provides about $6 million in federal funds for South Dakota programs for children in high-poverty and low-performing schools.

Mary Stadick Smith, the South Dakota Department of Education’s interim secretary, said “communities likely need to look at a variety of options, including partnerships among various entities, to fund and run out-of-school time programs” without federal funding.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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