Equity in Afterschool Access

The COVID 19 pandemic has caused substantial inequities among families living in poverty. The cost of childcare, along with access to quality childcare, is of great concern to many families. Even prior to the pandemic, the cost of childcare in AZ (along with 38 other states) for two children was more than a family’s mortgage payment (Child Trends, 2020). 

This widening of inequities among concentrated communities of poverty hits close to home for us at ICAN, as these are the families we are serving. A new study by the Afterschool Alliance surveyed program providers across the country who represent over 7,600 afterschool and summer program providers (including ICAN). They found that disparities in access to afterschool programs are growing as well, with youth who stand to benefit the most least likely to connect to such opportunities. These programs are not just a childcare resource for families either – programs like ICAN have continued to provide critical support in the community, including serving meals and referrals for families needing other vital services. The study also shared the insight of over 1,000 parents across the country, who overwhelmingly agreed that afterschool programs are critical during the pandemic, with 70% emphasizing academic support, 71% emphasizing safety (staying out of trouble) and 75% emphasizing positive relationships (emotional support). 

We surveyed our own parents over the summer and found that their biggest challenges were access to education, social isolation and access to childcare. We listened to the needs of our families and responded. We knew that once our traditional afterschool program was back in place with schools reopening that we would quickly have a waitlist of families once again – and that it would be even worse considering the fact that we were accommodating less youth because of CDC guidelines. Due to these circumstances, we worked closely with the Chandler Unified School District to open a second ICAN site at Galveston Elementary School. The site opened on October 13th and is currently serving 30 youth daily. The second site has given us the flexibility to spread out youth between two locations and the ability to serve more youth with ICAN’s vital youth development program. ICAN is not just a safe place for kids to go afterschool – we use structured curriculum that instills life skills, self-confidence and a myriad of social-emotional skills that are more critical than ever to vulnerable youth. 

Our expansion model has proven so successful in the midst of the pandemic, that we are planning an aggressive increase in additional site-based locations over the next two years. The concept of bringing our established ICAN model directly to youth in their schools is working, and our vision is to expand free youth development programs in other underserved communities as we grow. Our plan includes a second school site at Hartford Elementary in January, a third site by the end of next year, and future expansion beyond Chandler into other underserved communities by 2023. We are committed to expanding ICAN’s free program to the youth who need it most. If you feel inspired by our vision and would like to support our program and its growth – you can donate to ICAN at www.icanaz.org.  


Shelby Pedersen

CEO, ICAN: Positive Programs for Youth


  • Preparing for Back to School and Navigating Summer in the Time of COVID-19: http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/research.cfm
  • Supporting Families and Child Care Providers during the Pandemic with a Focus on Equity: https://www.childtrends.org/publications/supporting-families-child-care-providers-during-pandemic-with-focus-equity

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