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Youth services in NYC: who they serve and why they are necessary to a COVID recovery plan


May 8, 2020

New York City’s expansive system of after school programs, operating under the Department of Youth & Community Development, are a vital part of New York’s human services sector and one of our city’s greatest assets.

The Comprehensive After School System of New York City (COMPASS) which includes School’s Out NYC (SONYC), in addition to Cornerstone programs in NYCHA housing and Beacon school-based programs, provide education, sports, recreation, art, games, and important skill-building opportunities to approximately 222,000 children every year.

Source: City of New York (Fiscal Year 2019) Mayor’s Management Report.

These programs are intertwined with the public school system to serve a significant portion of the city’s schoolchildren, and almost one third of the students considered in poverty according to the Dept. of Education (DOE).

*Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch or HRA benefits according to the DoE

Source: Children in the DoE Public School System and Children in Poverty: New York City Department of Education. (School Year 2018/19). Demographic Snapshots. Children Receiving After School Programming: City of New York (Fiscal Year 2019) Mayor’s Management Report.

While the programs serve all ages, more than half of the children served in COMPASS & SONYC programs during the school year are in middle schools, and about 40% are in elementary schools.

COMPASS Elementary 51,773COMPASS High and COMPASS Explore*4,142COMPASS Middle (SONYC)70,288

*COMPASS Explore are programs that focus on specific topics and include slots of all age ranges; the totals for elementary and middle school do not include corresponding portions of Explore programming.

Source: New York City Independent Budget Office (Fiscal Year 2018). “Big Rise in After School Programs for Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Just as important, these programs continue to serve youth over the summer after the school year ends. Summer programs integrate both experiential, academic instruction and social-emotional learning opportunities to make learning joyful, combat summer learning loss, and build the skills necessary for school success and healthy development.

It is important to note that these programs encompass only the publicly-funded youth service delivery system, and although many children participate in private summer and after school programs, COMPASS, SONYC, Beacons and Cornerstones provide children and families who may have no other options with free, fun and safe summer activities.

Budget Cuts To Summer Programs

Unfortunately, the continuation of these services this summer is currently in jeopardy. The FY21 Executive Budget proposes cuts across several areas to close a budget deficit created by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest reductions is in youth services, where all summer programming for youth is eliminated. This $175 million cut includes the elimination of summer COMPASS and SONYC programs, summer programs operated through Beacons and Cornerstones, as well as the elimination of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP).

Elimination of these programs is a result of both the City’s bleak fiscal outlook, as well as the possibility of social-distancing guidelines extending into the summer months. With stay-at-home orders in place, delivery of these services does not come without challenges, but their total elimination is untenable given the current needs of children and their families.

Nearly 175,000 Children And Youth Will Stand To Lose Programming This Summer

There were approximately 70,000 youth who participated in COMPASS & SONYC summer programs in 2019. Additionally, there were approximately 74,000 teens employed through SYEP. While summer-only enrollment data is not available for programs at Cornerstone and Beacon sites, estimates indicate there are at least 30,000 young people enrolled in summer programs across approximately 200 sites.

Nearly 175,000 Children And Youth Will Stand To Lose Programming This Summer

There were approximately 70,000 youth who participated in COMPASS & SONYC summer programs in 2019. Additionally, there were approximately 74,000 teens employed through SYEP. While summer-only enrollment data is not available for programs at Cornerstone and Beacon sites, estimates indicate there are at least 30,000 young people enrolled in summer programs across approximately 200 sites.

Children and Youth in Summer Programs

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*Cornerstone and Beacon: our colleagues at United Neighborhood Houses, based on information from city-awarded contracts, estimate there are at least 30,000 young people enrolled in summer programs.

Source: Summer Youth Employment Program: City of New York (Fiscal Year 2019) Mayor’s Management Report.

COMPASS and SONYC: New York City Independent Budget Office (Fiscal Year 2018).“Big Rise in After School Programs for Elementary and Middle School Students.

Unlike COMPASS and SONYC participation during the school year, the majority of children served during the summer are in elementary school.

Summer EnrollmentSchool Enrollment

Source: New York City Independent Budget Office (Fiscal Year 2018). “Big Rise in After School Programs for Elementary and Middle School Students.”

Some Communities Will Be Affected More Than Others

Year-round COMPASS, SONYC, Beacon and Cornerstone programs are provided at approximately 1,165 sites across the city, but some communities stand to lose more than others from the elimination of summer programs. Many neighborhoods had less than a dozen programs, but in several areas of the Bronx, northern Manhattan and central Brooklyn, there are 20 – 40 program sites that may lose their summer offerings.

Unfortunately, many of the same neighborhoods heavily-served by youth programs, are also neighborhoods that have had higher shares of positive COVID-19 tests than other areas of the city. These include East Harlem, East Tremont, Morrisania, Washington Heights, East New York, Brownsville, among others.

Top 10 Community Districts with
After School Locations

Community District Count
East Harlem (M11) 49
Lower East Side (M03) 43
Washington Heights (M12) 40
East New York (K05) 39
Brownsville (K16) 37
Bedford Stuyvesant (K03) 35
Jamaica/St. Albans (Q12) 34
Concourse/Highbridge (B04) 33
Fort Greene/Brooklyn Heights (K02) 31
Morrisania (B03) 30

Compass, SONYC, Cornerstone and Beacon Locations by Zip Code

Source: CCC Analysis of Department of Youth and Community Development (June 2019) DYCD Program Sites.

Why Are Youth Services Important Right Now?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, after school programs have adapted how they engage children and serve their communities. The community-based organizations (CBOs) that run these programs have developed and implemented innovative new ways of providing youth with academic and social-emotional learning, as well as art and recreation programming.

Providers are currently helping families with the transition to remote learning, troubleshooting technology issues, engaging in remote arts instruction, and helping deliver meals to families suddenly food insecure, all through online videoconferences and apps or through phone calls and texts. The CBOs that serve these communities are intimately aware of the community’s needs, and stand ready to adapt to the new environment in order to provide youth with needed out-of-school engagement, and to prepare for the new school year.

Youth engagement over the summer will be vital to meeting the emerging educational, health and economic needs of children and families as a result of the public health and economic crisis. Summer programming as part of a recovery effort would address the following areas:

  1. Education– helping students overcome learning loss from the move to remote-schooling through building and strengthening cognitive skills, project-based learning activities and/or workforce development opportunities.
  2. Social Emotional Health – offering youth opportunities to build positive and rewarding relationships with others and strengthen their self-efficacy and resilience. This is even more important now considering the compounded trauma of social isolation, potential loss of a loved one, loss of a family’s income, and housing and food insecurity.
  3. Physical Health – providing opportunities for safe and regular physical activity and health and nutrition education, whether activities need to be socially-distanced or not.
  4. Family and Home – supporting parents, caregivers, and families to help promote learning and healthy development in safe and stable homes.

Additionally, SYEP has historically provided much-needed additional income over the summer to youth and their families. Not only do families need income during a time when so many caregivers have lost stable employment, but with the possibility of parents and caregivers falling ill, any income teens might contribute to their family’s household expenses is essential, not supplemental.

We know that following the Great Recession, unemployment for 16 to 19-year-olds increased, but was counterbalanced by increased investment and participation in SYEP.

Summer Youth Employment Progam (SYEP) Enrollment and Teen Unemployment

SYEP EnrollmentTeen Unemployment*

*Teen unemployment refers to teens 16 to 19 years old actively seeking employment who are unemployed.

Source: SYEP Enrollment: City of New York (Fiscal Years 2007-2019) Mayor’s Management Report. Teen Unemployment: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey combined 1-Year Estimates, Public Use Microdata Sample File (2014-2018 3-year averages).

We learned then what we know now; that during a crisis we need to invest in youth to improve economic outcomes for everyone.

How Can Programs Still Operate This Summer?

Even with social-distancing measures in effect, many providers can still offer summer program alternatives that promote recovery. CBOs are ready to take the lead on designing and piloting new approaches to summer programming and services that can be adapted and implemented in response to our new reality.

COMPASS and SONYC programs serving younger youth can engage children in various ways at home, through education, arts, and recreation. If schools remain in session this summer, these programs can continue to deliver a full range of academic enrichment outside of school hours. For SYEP serving older youth, innovative remote assignments can provide employment opportunities that support training, career exploration, credentialing and skills development.

On the other hand, if social distancing measures are lifted this summer and businesses reopen, seasonal staff may be more crucial than ever, and summer programs can connect youth to critical ongoing and recovery-specific citywide initiatives, such as emergency food delivery, the DOE’s Regional Enrichment Centers, census outreach, community resource mapping, and voter registration efforts.

CCC and its partners in the Campaign for Children stand ready to work with the Administration, City Council, elected leaders at the state and federal level, as well as the private and philanthropic sectors, to develop and implement creative solutions for youth programming this summer. The success of our efforts will ensure that children and youth of all ages are prepared for school reentry, and that they and their families benefit from the supports needed to recover from this unprecedented crisis.

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