Lessons learned from after-school program responses to COVID-19 in Spain

Morata, T., López, P., Palasí, E., Hodges, J. C., & Calvo, R. (2022). After-school programmes response to the COVID-19 pandemic: Lessons learned from Barcelona, Spain. Child & Family Social Work. https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12925

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • ​​ The COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on youths’ academics and psychosocial well-being, particularly those from low-income backgrounds.
  • Many Spanish parents reported emotional and behavioral changes in their children during the lockdown.
  • Unfortunately, there is a lack of studies that assess how after-school programs (APSs) addressed the needs of underrepresented youth during COVID-19.
  • This study examines the impact ASPs had on underserved children in Barcelona, Spain when COVID-19 began.
  • APSs were able to effectively support underserved families in Barcelona due to their established relationships with them.
    • APSs played a major role in assisting schools and other social services to support underserved youth during the pandemic by functioning as a gateway to a variety of essential services (for instance, education and nutrition).
  • Access to technology and privacy were two challenges for families. Not only did it make remote learning difficult, but also it hindered their ability to decipher information about COVID-19 and contributed to their stress, behavioral issues, & demotivation.
  • ASPs need to receive equitable funding to provide sufficient technological resources to support families who experience digital barriers.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This article explores the role of after-school programmes (ASPs) in serving underserved families in Barcelona, Spain, during the lockdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a mixed-method approach, this exploratory study surveyed 31 directors of ASPs administered by the Pere Tarrés Foundation. These ASPs serve almost 2000 children living under the federal poverty level in Catalonia, Spain. Results showed that the primary needs of children and their families revolved around: a digital divide that prevented them from accessing education remotely, financial difficulties, mental and behavioural problems and difficulty navigating pandemic-related information. The study also explores the ASPs’ contributions to address such needs, like engaging families, schools and social and health services to meet the urgent needs of the families, reinforcing school learning, providing support for managing emotions and providing guidance to families to help them better understand health information and gain access to available social and financial resources.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This mixed-methods study explored the response of ASPs for underserved children during the lockdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the city of Barcelona, Spain. Consistent with prior studies, we found that the pandemic generated significant psychosocial and educational needs for children at risk of social exclusion (Singh et al., 2020). The impact of the lockdown and other public health measures stemming from the pandemic was particularly severe for families who faced prior economic, health or other systemic barriers to access educational and other basic services. Without the appropriate technological equipment and skills, children and families were unable to engage in remote learning. Families also had difficulties interpreting information about the emergency and tapping into available resources to address such needs. Consistent with prior research, our study found that these circumstances led to high levels of demotivation, stress, behavioural problems and episodes of domestic violence (Ghosh et al., 2020; Orgilés et al., 2020). The pandemic magnified the long-standing socio-economic inequalities in Spain, leading to an increased fragility for the most vulnerable families.

We also found that ASPs played an important role in helping underserved families during times of rapid change and social upheaval. ASPs provided quick, effective responses to help address the digital divide for low-income families; monitored the psychosocial and financial needs of children; acted as brokers between children, their families, schools and social service agencies; provided psychosocial support for emotional health and family functioning; assisted with homework and tutoring to reinforce school-based instruction; and delivered information about the unfolding pandemic and how to avail the resources that were created to address it. These findings are consistent with those reported by Young et al. (2020) in Chicago and by Williams (2020) in California who found that, unlike schools that had to wait for the government to react, ASPs responded quickly to the emergency and liaison between families and services because of their flexibility, established trust with participants and robust networks of private donors and social services referrals. In terms of flexibility, the rapid switch from in-person small group activities to remote one-to-one instruction was essential to keep children engaged with school work and to help them navigate the multitude of socioemotional stressors stemming from the lockdown. These findings are consistent with recent research that shows the essential role that mentors played during the early weeks of the pandemic. A study conducted with 36 youth mentors across the United States to explore their experiences during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic found that mentors were essential in supporting the academic and socioemotional needs of youth during a very confusing and stressful time (Kaufman et al., 2021).

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