School-Age Care

School-age care refers to all programs that operate before school, after school, and during the summer and holiday breaks. Structured time in a school-age program can offer children opportunities to make friends, develop relationships with adult role models, and build self-esteem and conflict resolution skills.

Not all school-age programs require a license from the Department Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), including programs that are run by parks and recreation programs.

Child Care Check: Washington State's Licensed Child Care Information System can help families determine if a program has a DCYF license.

Most communities offer a variety of school-age care programs. Families should plan ahead to research and visit the program before enrolling. High-quality school-age care helps ensure healthy physical, emotional, social and intellectual development. Not all programs fit all kids!

Licensed Care

DCYF licenses school-age programs to make sure they meet minimum standards for health and safety. The ratio for licensed school-age programs is 15 children to one qualified staff member.

To find licensed school-age care, contact your local Child Care Aware Washington resource & referral agency or call toll-free 1.800.446.1114.

Recreational (Unlicensed) Care

Not all school-age programs must be licensed, including those that are operated by a local parks and recreation department. Other types of recreational care include:

  • Visual and performing arts programs
  • Sports leagues
  • Recreational groups
  • Cultural and social development activities
  • Academic assistance and enrichment components
  • Community service projects
  • Leadership opportunities

To find recreational activities, you can check with your local:

  • Community of faith
  • Parks and recreation department
  • United Way or volunteer center
  • Newspapers and publications
  • County and city websites

Your local school district, YMCA or YWCA may provide both licensed child care programs and unlicensed recreational activities.

Choosing an afterschool program is an important decision for you and your child. This booklet can help you find quality child care providers and paying for child care:

You Have a Choice! A Guide to Finding Quality Child Care:
English | Spanish | Somali

And here is a list of suggested questions to ask while visiting a school-age program, modified from School’s Out Washington:

  • What qualifications do the staff and director have? What ongoing training are staff required to attend, and are staff encouraged to attend trainings offered by professionals in the field of school-age care? Are staff specifically trained to work with this age group?
  • How does the program’s environment look? Are there separate areas for different age or interest groups? Are there areas for kids to have some private space? Is it generally clean and orderly? Are you inclined to stay?
  • What types of activities are planned for the kids? Is there good balance between indoor/outdoor, large group/small group, active/quiet, and staff-directed/child-directed activities? Is there time for kids to just "hang out"? Are activities planned to meet the developmental needs of all children in the program? Will the program meet the needs and interests of your particular child?
  • What are the program philosophies and goals? Do these match your values? Ask to have a copy of the program’s handbook to check out all the important information on billing, payments, pick-up, safety, etc.
  • What is the staff-to-child ratio? The ratio should never exceed 15-to-1. Lower ratios (10-to-1) promote higher quality standards.
  • What is the rate of staff turnover? Continual changes in staff can create program instability.
  • What meals or snacks are served? Are they well- balanced to meet the cultural and nutritional needs of the children? Is there enough food served to meet the needs of this age group?
  • Do they have a state-issued DEL license that is current? Click here to learn more about licensing requirements.
  • Will the director give you names of parents in the program to call and ask questions? Do they allow open visits by parents?
  • What is the program’s discipline policy? Does this fit into your ideas and beliefs?
  • If your child has special needs, will they be met by the program?
  • What is your child’s first impression of the program--your first impression? Is the overall atmosphere and sound of the kids and staff a happy and inviting sound? Are they having fun?
  • What are transportation policies? What vehicles do they use?
  • What community resources does the program use?
  • What are the policies on TV viewing? Is it used sparingly and not in place of quality activities?

School’s Out Washington is a statewide nonprofit organization that provides services and guidance for organizations to ensure all young people have safe places to learn and grow when they are not in school. School’s Out is dedicated to building community systems to support quality afterschool programs for Washington through training, advocacy and leadership. All programs in the state of Washington that serve 5- to 18-year-olds outside of formal school hours are eligible to receive services from School’s Out Washington.

With support from DCYF, School’s Out Washington hosts an annual two-day conference, The Bridge from School to Afterschool and Back, in October. This conference is focused on helping schools and afterschool programs work together to support children and youth. Each year, nationally recognized speakers, researchers, and advocates present materials on best practices, cutting-edge information, and useful tools. Participants come from around the country to learn from presenters and to network with others in the field. 

Learn more about School’s Out Washington.