The wide-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a national youth mental health crisis. 

Lockdowns, school closures and other unprecedented challenges related to the pandemic have taken a toll on children’s mental health. Young people are experiencing more anxiety, depression, anger, fear, hostility and aggression. Suicide attempts have also dramatically increased; emergency room visits for suicide attempts rose by more than 50% among teen girls in 2021 compared to 2019.

And, it’s children of color and those growing up in poverty who are impacted the most. More than 140,000 U.S. children have experienced the death of a primary or secondary caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic. The risk of losing a loved one was 4.5 times higher among children of color compared to their white counterparts. 

All of these factors have compounded to create a national emergency for youth mental health. But families across the country should know about an incredible resource that can provide the support they need: afterschool programs

Decades of research show that kids who participate in afterschool programs gain significant, lasting benefits like building social skills, forming healthy relationships, making smart decisions, avoiding risky behaviors, doing better in school and graduating on time. Afterschool programs also connect young people to resources like social services and counselors who are trained in helping people heal from trauma.

Camp Agape in Plymouth, Vermont, serves youth who have a parent or caregiver involved in the Vermont correctional system. Therefore, having resources to address stress and grief is particularly important, giving campers the opportunity to have fun while receiving extra support from caring adults. The program worked with a licensed mental health counselor to provide support around social-emotional learning skills, trauma and crisis intervention. They hired additional staff and trained them in youth mental health first aid to enhance emotional and behavioral support for campers.

But these afterschool programs need support to keep their doors open and expand to serve the nearly 25 million students who are waiting to enroll. The U.S. Department of Education recently launched a new effort with the goal of ensuring that every student who wants to participate in a high-quality afterschool program has that opportunity. The Engage Every Student initiative encourages school districts, state agencies and cities to invest American Rescue Plan funds in partnerships with afterschool and summer providers to support students’ well-being and academic growth.

This is a critical moment for states, school districts and their partners to maximize the resources available to them to help accelerate students’ learning and recovery. 

Read more about how partnerships between schools and afterschool programs can help children thrive at