Statewide Afterschool Quality Standards

ACT Now is a statewide coalition that works to ensure that young people in Illinois have access to quality, affordable afterschool and youth development programs. ACT Now has undertaken an initiative to develop Quality Standards in order to improve afterschool programming around the state. Our Quality Standards capture practices that have been demonstrated, through research, to lead to quality programs and positive outcomes for children.

Research shows that quality afterschool programs increase positive outcomes for youth.

Quality afterschool programming provides enrichment activities, opportunities that increase self-esteem and prevent risky behaviors, time for recreational activities that promote healthy development and team building, and a chance to build on school day learning by explaining academic concepts through hands-on activities.

It is not enough for communities to just have access to afterschool programs. Communities need access to consistent and high-quality programs that benefit youth socially, emotionally, and academically.

The Standards are broken into seven overarching categories or Core Areas that represent the key areas of quality for programs.

The seven Core Areas are:

  • Indoor and Outdoor Environments
  • Safety, Health, and Nutrition
  • Administration
  • Professional Development and Qualifications
  • Family and Community Partnerships
  • Youth Development, Programming, and Activities
  • Partnerships with Schools

The Standards were written for use by various groups.

The following is a list of ways different stakeholders can use the Standards:

  • Afterschool Providers: Develop a quality improvement plan, determine areas of strengths and weaknesses, and decide on areas of professional development to pursue for staff
  • Parents and Families: Understand the key elements of a high-quality program and be able to advocate for quality programs for their children and within their own communities
  • Funders and Policymakers: Link funding to research-based practices that lead to measurable outcomes and evaluate and improve programs
  • K-12 Educators: Understand the key elements of high-quality programs, provide a common language for partnership, and provide a guide to reinforce and advance key priorities
  • Higher Education: Assist in designing content for courses related to youth development providers and in choosing strategic partners for research initiatives

Illinois Quality Standards Provider Handbook:

ACT Now recognizes that all of the quality indicators are not applicable to all afterschool programs and as was noted at the training, programs may hit roadblocks in implementing the Standards.

Each of the initial provider training sessions included an opportunity for participants to use the shared knowledge of the group to brainstorm detours for these roadblocks.

ACT Now and the trainers appreciate the provider’s hard work in brainstorming and sharing during the training. We believe there is value in providers sharing knowledge with each other. This Provider Handbook includes the ideas that were captured from providers around the state.

To access the Illinois Quality Standards Provider Handbook, click here.

Click on the links below to access the following electronic resources:

Quality Standards

Quality Standards Brochure

Trauma-Informed Data Collection One-Pager

How to Talk to Boards and Administrators About Quality Standards

How to Talk to Parents and Families About Quality Standards

How to Talk to Policymakers and Funders About Quality Standards

Talking to Funders

For hundreds of providers around the state, the Illinois Statewide Afterschool Quality Standards serve as a common language for quality and a tool for helping them highlight the quality aspects of their programs. To expand this work, it is important that program funders also know about and understand the importance of the Afterschool Standards. To learn how to reach out to funders about the Standards, check out the resources below:

How to Talk to Policymakers and Funders About Quality Standards

Talking to Funders PowerPoint Presentation

Using the Quality Standards in Grant-Making

Sample Letter to Funders Regarding the Quality Standards

Quality Standards Sign-On


To view ACT Now’s previously recorded provider webinars, click on the buttons below.

Introduction to the Afterschool Quality Standards Framework

Quality Standards in Action

Below are examples of Illinois afterschool providers implementing the Illinois Statewide Afterschool Quality Standards. The Standards encompass seven Core Areas, which capture practices that research demonstrates lead to quality programs and positive outcomes for children and youth. Since ACT Now published the Standards in May 2016, over 300 afterschool providers, educators, and advocates have attended 16 provider trainings across the state.

At the workshops, our organization provided attendees tools for implementing the Standards and helped attendees develop strategies for overcoming obstacles in implementing best practices. To support providers in their pursuit of quality, ACT Now has gathered examples from the field of the Standards in action.

Belmont-Cragin Community Schools Initiative
(Chicago, IL)

At the Belmont-Cragin Community Schools Initiative (BCS) in Chicago, IL, the Standards booklet serves as a guide for best practices for program staff and administration.

BCS focused on Core Area 5: Family and Community Partnerships and in particular Program Standard 18: “The program has a systemic approach and structure for family and community engagement.” To foster a welcoming environment, they have adopted an open door policy and made a commitment to surveying parents to determine their needs, interests, and challenges to participation and engagement. To leverage partnerships and build capacity, BCS collaborates with the PAC, PTA, and other external partners to hosts meetings, workshops, and events, such as their Parent Math Academy and Parent Mentors Trainings, to provide parents tools and strategies that assist them in supporting their children’s academic success.

Regional Office of Education Bureau, Henry, and Stark Counties (Atkinson, IL)

The Site Coordinators for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) that serve the Regional Office of Education for Bureau, Henry, and Stark Counties (ROE #28) in Atkinson, IL utilize the Quality Standards booklet in their monthly reporting. Each month, the Site Coordinators highlight one quality indicator from each Core Area on their monthly reports with specific examples of how they are implementing them. Through this process, the Coordinator reflects on the program’s strengths and identifies areas where there is need for improvement. In addition, the BHS ROE 21st CCLC Site Coordinators view the Quality Standards webinars as a group. After watching, Coordinators discuss the content and have the opportunity to direct questions to their project director.

After attending ACT Now’s Quality Standards training, the 21st CCLC sites that serve ROE #28 directed their attention towards Core Area 5: Family and Community Partnerships. They have particularly focused on Program Standard 18 that identifies one element of a quality program as having a systemic approach and structure for family and community engagement. Indicator 18.2 asks programs to develop and implement an effective family and community engagement system on an ongoing basis. ROE #28 addressed 18.2 by implementing a formal policy that requires programs to host at least one family event in both the fall and spring.

Indicator 18.3 instructs afterschool programs to monitor, evaluate, and share community and family engagement outcomes through an ongoing data collection system. In response to this indicator, ROE #28 implemented a new parent survey. Prior to the Standards training, they only surveyed parents regarding their interest in parent events. Now, they also gauge parents’ level of involvement and satisfaction with the program.

As a result of the training, ROE #28 also tackled Indicator 18.6, which asks that the program connect families with specific community resources to meet the needs of youth and families. The ROE held an all Support Service Staff meeting to discuss resources available so that they can better serve the parents in their communities.

Galva Jr./Sr. High School (Galva, IL)

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Coordinator at Galva Jr./Sr. High School utilizes the Standards booklet as a guide for helping to assess where their quality improvement efforts should be directed. The Standards serve as a criterion for determining where the program is meeting the mark and where there is room for improvement.

As a result of attending the Standards training, the 21st CCLC at Galva Jr./Sr. High School is more intentional about Core Area 5: Family and Community Partnerships. In particular, the program addressed Program Standard 18, Indicator 18.3. This indicator asks that programs take a systemic approach and structure for family and community engagement by monitoring, evaluating, and sharing community and family engagement outcomes through an ongoing data collection system. The 21st CCLC at Galva Jr./Sr. High School planned a parents’ night. At the event, a police department Sergeant Detective shared tips for keeping young people safe on the internet. In return, the family/parent night afforded the program an opportunity to survey parents to see what they would be interested in doing in the future with the program.

Mary’s House (Centralia, IL)

Mary’s House is a licensed childcare provider in Centralia, Illinois. The program serves up to 78 children, age infancy through thirteen. Mary’s House uses the Quality Standards booklet to help with the planning and implementation of their school-age program. The program’s coordinator consults the Standards booklet to ensure that the programming covers all bases.

To promote quality in their school-age program, Mary’s House has directed its attention to Core Area 1: Indoor and Outdoor Environment. After going through the ACT Now Quality Standards provider training, Mary’s House worked on Program Standard 1, Quality Indicator 1.1. This indicator encourages providers to confirm that their indoor environment safely and comfortably accommodates the various activities offered and can be arranged to meet the various needs of the program. In pursuant of Indicator 1.1, Mary’s House moved its reading center closer to the program’s designated “cozy” area. The move provides program participants privacy and quietness when they read.  To accommodate school-age youth, Mary’s House expanded its writing center with additional resources.

Mary’s House also focused their attention on Program Standard 2, Indicator 2.4. Programs that strive for quality with this indicator maintain safe outdoor environments that engage youth in physical activity and broaden their exposure to play experiences. Mary’s House was not able to make major changes to the small space dedicated to their school-age youth. However, they were able to add additional activities to the school-age playground. To accommodate for the small space, Mary’s House utilizes the public spaces in their community as much as possible.  They take their school-age youth on hikes in their public park at least twice per week and utilize these public spaces for fishing, cookouts, and special occasions.