The summer months present a major departure from the structure, resources, and support systems that are available to the vast majority of children, youth, and their parents during the traditional school year. For those with few economic resources and with limited income, the opportunity to continue school-year experiences in the four domains of academic learning, social and emotional development, physical and mental health, and pro-social behavior is often constrained. This contributes to differential summertime experiences for children and youth based on their socioeconomic status, which can result in losses in some domains, gains in some domains, and lack of progress in others. For example, reduced gains—and in some cases losses—in reading aptitude are well documented during the summer for low-income children and youth, as are further weight gain for those with obesity and increased exposure to certain adverse health and behavioral risk factors (e.g., tobacco initiation, violence, and crime). The opportunity that summertime offers to promote positive trajectories in the referenced domains is the basis for this study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Wallace Foundation.
The committee was charged with examining the state of evidence on outcomes in the four domains of well-being just noted, to address issues of availability, access, equity, and effectiveness in summertime programs and services related to these domains and to proffer recommendations for improvement. The committee examined the existing literature and accessible relevant data sources on demography, outcomes of interest, access, disparities, measurement, and developmental trajectories. An open session
with multisectoral stakeholders was conducted and commissioned papers were secured to fill gaps in evidence and information.
After examining all the relevant data and inputs, the committee arrived at seven overarching conclusions—supported by evidence presented in the chapters that follow—which serve as the basis for the recommendations listed further below and in Chapter 6. The seven overarching conclusions are these:
- Summertime experiences can affect academic, health, social and emotional, and safety outcomes for children and youth, with those in disadvantaged communities at risk for worse outcomes.
- There are opportunities for systems and agents to implement innovative new programs and extend effective practices that already exist during the school year into the summer period.
- The assets and priorities of communities must be central to the planning, development, design, and evaluation of summertime programs and services.
- All children have basic developmental needs—including the need for adequate nutrition and the need for safety—that must be met as a critical precondition for summer programs and services.
- Children and youth who live in less advantageous circumstances (e.g., with poverty or food insecurity or in neighborhoods with high incidence of violence, crime, or overpolicing) face numerous obstacles in having their needs met across the four developmental domains and in accessing positive summer experiences. These subpopulations require a special focus in the committee’s recommendations.
- Although there is a robust research literature documenting the impact of summer on academic developmental trajectories, research on the impact of summer on other developmental domains examined by the committee is scarce, leaving many questions about best practices unanswered. This is a priority research need.
- Existing data systems do not adequately capture seasonal differences in outcomes in the four domains examined by the committee, making it difficult to fully understand the summertime experiences of children and youth.
Summer provides a unique window of opportunity during the year to engage families and leverage the strengths and resources of families, communities, and other stakeholders to improve the education, health, safety, and well-being of children and youth. The diverse socioenvironmental settings in which children and youth live, play, and work determine the availability of and accessibility to programs and services during the summer months. When schools close for the summer, children, youth, and families
may lose a number of vital supports, such as access to healthy meals, access to medical care, daily supervision, and structured enrichment opportunities. These losses make summer a time of increased vulnerability for many children and youth—especially those from communities and families with fewer resources. While children from higher- and middle-income families may not be affected by these losses, many families with fewer resources cannot fill this gap.
In order to improve the health and well-being of children and youth during the summer, multisector agents, families, and youth will need improved coordination and collaboration to identify and prioritize high-quality summertime experiences, with special attention to the needs of children and youth who lack these opportunities. Although there is no single strategy that will work in every community for every young person, research can shed light on promising practices that, when applied with attention to the needs of the target population, have the potential to improve outcomes regardless of background. More robust data on seasonality for the four outcomes of interest in this study, as well as further research on how summers affect the development of children and youth beyond academic learning—in their social and emotional development, physical and mental health, safety/risk taking, and pro- and anti-social behavior—would offer a chance to improve outcomes and reduce the disparities and inequities that currently exist.
Understanding the accessibility of existing programs and services, the characteristics of effective programs and practices, and the diversity of families needing to be served is critical to improving the summertime experiences of America’s children and youth. With this improved understanding, policy makers and decision makers can play an important role in ensuring that summer is a time when children and youth are able to benefit from their experiences equitably to support their healthy development and learning.
This report is the outcome of a request to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to undertake a study to look at the summertime experiences of children and youth in the following four outcome domains of well-being: (1) academic learning and opportunities for enrichment; (2) social and emotional development; (3) physical and mental health and health-promoting behaviors; and (4) safety, risk-taking, and anti- and pro-social behavior. The Committee on Summertime Experiences and Child and Adolescent Education, Health, and Safety is comprised of members with expertise in sociology, education, medicine, public health, nutrition and obesity, developmental psychology, positive youth development, public policy, juvenile justice, business, workforce development, and urban planning. It was formed to address this statement of task under
the direction of the National Academies’ Board on Children, Youth, and Families. The committee was further charged with authoring a report on the state of the science on how summertime experiences affect school-age children and youth from the summer prior to kindergarten entry through grade 12 (see Chapter 1 for the committee’s complete statement of task).
Improving Planning, Administration, and Coordination
RECOMMENDATION 1: Local governments (e.g., county, city) should establish a quality management system (QMS) to identify and provide positive developmental summertime experiences for children and youth, experiences that advance academic learning, improve health and wellbeing, and promote safety and social and emotional development. The QMS process should be specific to summertime and continuous, and it should contain the following six components:
- a systematic assessment of existing summertime programs and services;
- a systematic community needs assessment that is inclusive of parents and youth to assess summertime programming and services;
- the identification and prioritization of gaps between current and needed programs and services;
- the development and implementation of plans to address prioritized needs from the summertime community needs assessment;
- the development and measurement of key process indicators and relevant outcomes; and
- a continuous quality improvement process.
RECOMMENDATION 2: Foundations and other philanthropic organizations should augment their funding, technology, and in-kind supports to intermediaries that are creating systems, platforms, and communication vehicles for—and promoting promising and effective practices focused on—summertime experiences for children and youth.
Improving Availability, Access, and Equity
RECOMMENDATION 3: Governors and mayors should convene local public and private employers to leverage and support employer policies, practices, and programs to expand the capacity of and access to quality summertime experiences for children and youth, particularly those in underserved communities.
RECOMMENDATION 4: Federal and state government agencies should review existing policies and regulations for programs and services for children and youth to enable the continuation during the summer months of school-year funding and resources for effective physical activity, nutrition, obesity prevention, and enrichment programs, particularly those that serve children and youth in poor and underserved communities.
RECOMMENDATION 5: The U.S. Department of Agriculture should work with state and local governments to reduce food insecurity for children and youth during the summer through existing mechanisms by increasing access to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), reducing barriers to community eligibility for the SFSP, and expanding the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children Program.
RECOMMENDATION 6: Federal, state, and city officials, in partnership with the private sector, should increase funding for structured summer employment programs in order to serve more adolescents.
RECOMMENDATION 7: Those government agencies (federal, state, and local), nongovernmental organizations (e.g., foundations), and parts of the business community that fund, deliver, or otherwise support summertime experiences for children and youth should target summer programs that
- focus on underserved children and youth;
- target the specific needs of participants;
- meet the health and safety requirements of participants in developmentally and culturally appropriate ways;
- identify specific outcomes and measurements;
- have concrete plans to promote strong attendance; and
- are accessible to participants and of sufficient duration to meet desired programming outcomes.
RECOMMENDATION 8: Government agencies (federal, state, and local) that play an active role in the supervision, detention, or custodial care of children and youth should provide comprehensive developmental (academic, social, emotional), health, and safety programs during the summer period. This programming should consider and respond appropriately to the risks to healthy development, health, and safety that affect children and youth in these circumstances and that disproportionately affect poor, immigrant, homeless, and racial and ethnic minority populations in this group.
Advancing Data Collection and Research
RECOMMENDATION 9: Government agencies (federal, state, and local) and nongovernmental organizations (e.g., foundations) that sponsor surveys and collect data on children and youth that includes the summer months should
- establish and maintain databases that allow for disaggregation of data by month;
- extend academic-year data collection to include the summer months when appropriate to the subject of the data collection; and
- share data across systems when possible.
Needs for future research that could inform evidence-based summertime programs and practices are identified in Chapter 6.