How to start an After School Program in California: Step-by-Step Guide


·10 min read

Starting an afterschool program in California can be a rewarding experience, both personally and financially. California has a high demand for afterschool programs in addition to regular school hours due to the number of working families in the state.

Before setting up your afterschool program, you need a comprehensive business plan that reflects your operating costs, marketing strategy, and considers the legal requirements of the state of California.

By providing a safe environment, for young people, that follows California’s legalities, your afterschool program can contribute significantly to the well-being of children of all ages.

Afterschool Program Legal Requirements in California

Before starting an afterschool program in California, you need to understand the legal requirements. Predominantly these involve:

  • Licensing requirements
  • Staff-to-chid ratio requirements
  • Staff qualifications

Do Afterschool Programs Have to be Licensed in California?

Afterschool programs in California require licensing by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). CDSS Child Care Licensing ensures that the program meets minimum safety and health policies and requirements set by the government. To start a child care licensing application, you will need to complete a form, provide documentation of your program's health and safety practices, and pay a fee. Visit the CDSS website to learn about how to get a child care license in California.

What is the Staff-to-Child Ratio in California for after school programs?

California has specific requirements for the number of staff members that must be present in a quality afterschool program based on the number of children enrolled.

Title 22 Child Care Licensing Regulations

Title 22 is the set of regulations that govern childcare centers in California. These regulations define the staff-to-child ratios for an afterschool program. When determining these ratios the age of the child, their safety and the type of child care being offered were considered. Depending on the children’s age, there are different staff-to-child ratios.

  • Infants (birth to 18 months old) - 1:3 adult-child ratio, 1:18 teacher-child ratio.
  • Toddlers (18 months to 36 months old) - 1:4 adult-child ratio, 1:16 teacher-child ratio.
  • Preschool (36 months to enrollment in kindergarten) - 1:8 adult-child ratio, 1:24 teacher-child ratio.
  • Children enrolled in kindergarten through 14 years old - 1:14 adult-child ratio, 1:28 teacher-child ratio.

Title 22 has deemed these ratios the most effective when delivering high-quality child care, comprised of the necessary attention and supervision required by children of these age ranges.

Learn more about the Title 22 Regulations on California’s Department of Social Services website.

What are the Qualification Requirements for After School Program Staff Members?

The state of California has specific staff qualification requirements for afterschool programs. These requirements ensure that staff members have the necessary training and expertise to provide a safe and engaging environment for young people.

Title 22 Director Qualifications

The afterschool program director must have a Bachelor's degree in child development, early childhood education, or a related field. Alternatively, they can have a Bachelor's degree in another field supported by a minimum of 12 units of coursework in child development, early childhood education, or recreation.

Aides and Staff Qualifications

Aides in afterschool programs must have completed six units of coursework in child development, early childhood education, or recreation. Alternatively, they can have a CDA credential or enroll in a CDA program.

Staff members working in afterschool programs in California need to complete 15 hours of health and safety training before working with children. Within this training, members of staff will cover pediatric first aid. Often these courses will also cover child abuse prevention. Finally, new staff members who intend to work with young people will undergo a background check to ensure they can work closely with children.

How to start an after school program in California: A step-by-step business plan

After solidifying your understanding of California’s legal requirements for opening an afterschool program, the next stage is generating a business plan. This business plan will determine the demand for your program and your target demographic, consider potential sources of federal funding, set your fees, and contain a marketing strategy.

Understand Local Demand and Existing Competition

The first step: understanding demand! When developing your business plan, research the local demand for afterschool programs. You can research this demand by discovering how many employed parents are in your local area and the number of schools already offering afterschool programs.

During this stage of your business plan, we suggest looking into your competition. Understanding your competitor’s pricing and services will allow your afterschool program to stand out from the crowd.

Funding for Afterschool Programs

Within the state of California, there are multiple types of local and federal funding options available. Organizations like the California Department of Education offer grants to start an afterschool program.

In addition to potential grants, you will likely also charge a fee for your program that will cover your operating costs.

It is worth considering scholarships or sliding-scale pricing to make your afterschool program accessible to all families and young people within the community.

We will discuss the grants available in California toward the conclusion of this article.

Set Pricing for Your Afterschool Program

Once you have determined your funding sources, you can set pricing for your afterschool program. Firstly, make sure to consider your operating costs! These include your rent, equipment, staff salaries, and other expenses. Determining your operating costs will help you decide upon a fee.

Finally, consider the pricing of other, local afterschool programs to help set competitive fees. Pricing your after-school club competitively is a great way to increase your enrollment rate. Use these initial, lower costs to gain reviews for your afterschool program. Once you have positive testimonials, you can increase your rates.

Develop a Marketing Strategy

Determining your target audience is the first stage in developing a marketing strategy to attract families to your afterschool program. Although your afterschool program is for young people, your marketing strategy should target the parents and guardians who place the booking.

Social Media Marketing

Your social media marketing efforts should target the child’s parent or guardian. We recommend considering Facebook or Instagram. Adults in this demographic are more active on these two platforms.

By creating a Facebook and Instagram business page, you can share updates on your program schedule, photos, and videos of your activities. If you plan to share photographs of the children (firstly, ask permission!) and subsequently make both accounts private to ensure their privacy and safety.

Partner with local schools or community centers

Partner with local schools or community centers to offer promotional flyers for your afterschool program. An eye-catching flyer that provides relevant information can increase enrollment in your afterschool program. Distribute them in high-traffic areas and consider offering incentives to increase your chance of success.

Choose a Suitable Venue and Equipment

Choosing a suitable venue and equipment for your after-school club is the next stage of your business plan.

Consider the safety and accessibility of the venue, as well as the availability of equipment such as computers, books, and sports equipment, and its position in relation to nearby schools. Is it walkable for the kids in attendance, or will they need to be dropped off?

Managing Bookings and Payment Collection

Managing bookings and payment collection is a key operational element of your business plan. You can do this via a booking system, a spreadsheet, or using pen-and-paper. We’d recommend using an online booking system such as Pembee. This will allow parents and carers to book services online without having to phone or email you, handle the registration process automatically, generate an activity attendance register with live information and ensure that you are running your after school club efficiently.

Hiring staff members

It is essential to hire staff members who are qualified, experienced, and enthusiastic about working with young people to ensure that your after-school club is providing high-quality child care. Depending on your needs and budget, consider hiring a mix of full-time and part-time staff members while adhering to the legal staff-to-child ratios for quality child care.

When hiring new staff members, clearly define the job role, qualifications, and experience required, and advertise through effective channels to attract suitable candidates.

All of your new staff must undergo a background check and have qualifications determined by the state of California. These requirements will ensure the safety and well-being of the young people in your care.

After school club activity ideas

After school club activities delve into subjects and interests absent in a school curriculum. These activities enable them to explore their interests, uncover hidden talents, and apply the knowledge they have gained in school to different areas.

Children can enjoy diverse learning experiences at a quality afterschool club program.

A few after school activity ideas:

  • Gardening skills
  • Photography workshops
  • Art clubs
  • Drama performances
  • Sports days
  • Cooking and Baking
  • Dance classes

For more inspiration on activities you can explore, check out our blog post after school club activity ideas list.

Grants in California for after school child care

The state of California offers a variety of grants for setting up afterschool programs. These grants support organizations and individuals committed to providing quality afterschool programs to young people state-wide.

California Department of Education After-school Education and Safety Program (ASES Program)

ASES is a state-funded grant program for schools and community-based organizations that provide safe, educationally enriching afterschool programs to children in grades K-12. ASES after school program application criteria focus on integration with the school day and other Expanded Learning opportunities, a safe physical and emotional environment, opportunities for relationship building, and promotion of active student engagement.


21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC)

The 21st CCLC is a federally funded grant for afterschool programs that serve high-poverty, low-performing schools. The program focuses on learning programs, literacy, and community engagement.

Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF)

This federally funded program supports afterschool programs that specifically work with and support low-income families and young people with reduced opportunities. CCDF aims to provide affordable child care with an educational theme.

Safe Routes to School (SRTS)

The primary aim of this grant is to encourage children to walk or bike to school. The SRTS federally funded grant provides incentives that encourage children to walk or use their bikes. The end goal of SRTS is to improve physical activity, reduce traffic, and improve air quality.

California Endowment

This private foundation provides funding to organizations that improve the health and well-being of Californians. Specifically, the California Endowment focuses on low-income communities, communities of color, and projects that have these individuals at their heart.

The California Endowment Logo

How to apply for these grants:

  • Research into each set of eligibility requirements
  • Ensure you meet these requirements
  • Write and submit a detailed proposal outlining the details of your business plan

We would encourage you to carefully research the eligibility requirements and guidelines as they differ from one grant to another.

Other grants and funding opportunities are available at local and regional levels, so we recommend researching these options!

Other useful resources

Afterschool Alliance: The Afterschool Alliance works with agencies, elected officials, businesses, 50 state afterschool networks, community leaders, and program providers across the nation to expand support for quality afterschool programs and best practices.

The California After School Network: The California AfterSchool Network (CAN) exists to make a difference in the health and well-being of children, youth, their families, and their communities by strengthening access to high-quality programs.

After School Program Grant Proposal Cover Letter: Our comprehensive guide will help you write a persuasive grant proposal cover letter that impresses funders.

In Conclusion

Setting up an afterschool program in California can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience that benefits its local community, provides quality child care, and actively supports the development of young people.

Establishing an afterschool program in California requires careful planning, diligent preparation, understanding of startup costs and grants, and adherence to legal requirements. To comply with California regulations, you must follow specific staff-to-child ratio requirements, complete health and safety training, and undergo background checks. Moreover, you must provide an environment that promotes the safety and well-being of the children in your care.

Aside from the legalities, a concrete business plan is required. Ensure you understand the local demand and existing competition, develop a marketing strategy, determine your operating costs and secure funding through grants or other sources. Additionally, it is essential to choose a suitable venue, hire qualified staff members, and develop engaging activities.

Following the steps discussed in this article, you can create a quality afterschool program for young people that contributes positively to your community's well-being and provides high-quality child care.

After School Program