​​​​The Problem

​​​Historically, the afterschool field has been fragmented, with many different programs—and the government agencies and private groups that fund them—operating in isolation from one another. The result is a lack of access to high-quality programs, particularly in urban areas with large numbers of disadvantaged young people. Little has been known about how best to coordinate efforts so that more children and teens can take part in high-quality afterschool programming.

​​How We Are Tackling It

​​In 2003, The Wallace Foundation began helping five cities to experiment with the idea of coordinating efforts and resources to bring young people afterschool opportunities that otherwise might be out of reach. Our work sought both to assist these fledgling coordination projects (in Boston, Chicago, New York City, Providence and Washington, D.C.) and learn lessons to share nationwide to help other communities interested in boosting afterschool opportunities.

At the time, a few cities were pioneering this “system-building” approach, but it was still a novelty. The afterschool system-building field has grown and learned much since then. At least 77 of the 275 largest U.S. cities have put in place one or more key strategies to coordinate their afterschool programs.

Wallace’s work with the original cities in its system-building initiative wound down, and in 2012, the foundation launched a “next generation” effort to assist nine other cities (Baltimore, Denver, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Louisville, Nashville, Philadelphia and St. Paul) that had already begun to build systems of their own—and to continue to generate lessons for the field about system-building.

The nine cities’ efforts are focusing on strengthening the quality of programming offered through the afterschool systems as well as the capacity of the systems to gather and analyze data to inform decision-making. The work in the 14 cities as a whole, as well as a large body of research published in recent years, has helped us refine our understanding of what sound system building entails.

As afterschool becomes more valued and coordinated in a city, the financial management burden on the organizations that provide afterschool programming can also increase. Without sound financial management, a provider organization can find itself in jeopardy when budgets and contracts get bigger and more complex, especially if payments from funders arrive behind schedule. Wallace launched the Strengthening Financial Management initiative in 2009 to help providers sharpen the skills they need to get their financial house in order—and make funder policies and procedures fairer and more efficient.