Print More

Child care providers around the city were riled up last week after a city official publicly explained the approach undergirding the city’s massive new after-school child care initiative: Pay less than needed and expect service providers to make up the rest.

“Government can be a big part of the solution but not the only part,” said Bill Chong, deputy commissioner of the Department for Youth and Community Development (DYCD), at a Milano School forum on the new “Out of School Time” (OST) program last week. “To depend simply on city resources is a short-sighted approach.”

The comment, which raised hackles in the crowd, marked the first time the city has articulated what had heretofore been a quiet shift, said David Chen, executive director of the Chinese-American Planning Council and a veteran of city child care services. Prior to OST, the city fully funded public, school-age child care for roughly 10,000 students up to age 12. “Even if the city didn’t say it before, you can see the trend that OST is leading,” said Chen. “Government is no longer standing behind you 100 percent.”

The OST programs, which launched this fall, will care for far more children—approximately 65,000 students from kindergarten to high school once it reaches full capacity next year. The new system replaces a mix of care provided for children and teenagers by myriad agencies and funding streams, allocating a maximum of $2,800 per child per year, far less than OST’s elementary-age predecessor, which paid around $5,000 per child.

When audience members voiced concerns that the agency was under-funding child care services, Assistant Commissioner Christopher Caruso defended the agency’s payment rates. “We have programs that are doing an excellent job with $2,800,” he said.

It costs Edward Auerbach, executive director of Just-Us, Inc., a youth services agency, even less: about $1292 annually per child. His OST program, which serves 100 middle-schoolers in the Bronx, offers a range of tutoring and extracurricular activities—but only three days a week, plus school holidays and vacations. On days when Just-Us is closed, they direct students to other after-school programs, said Auerbach. “The funding for the first year…only takes you so far,” said Auerbach. Just-Us plans to expand its services to four days this spring, but will reduce its daily hours of operation, opening at 3:30 instead of 3:00, to mitigate the cost.

Other program directors say the city’s math just doesn’t add up. “When I look at the goals of OST, I don’t know how to run a program that good on $2,800,” said Richard Buery, executive director of Groundwork, an East New York group that serves roughly 400 children and teenagers under OST. Buery, who has been fundraising heavily to supplement the city’s rates, estimates that the average cost of care for a child in his programs, which operate 3-6 p.m. on weekdays, as well as holidays and summer breaks, range from $4,000-$5,000 per student per year, depending on age. Still, Buery understands the city's concerns. In an era of tight budgets and shrinking government aid, he said, “you want to have diverse funding pools to ensure maximum stability.”

The agency is taking that to heart. DYCD’s commissioner, Jeanne Mullgrav has been hitting up foundations herself, said Caruso, adding that the OST program was launched in part with $12 million from the Wallace Foundation to cover infrastructure costs. The city’s also culled another $1 million from the Clark Foundation to bolster middle-school programs, and is approaching other funders as it hashes out a five-year business plan to chart its fundraising goals.

But even that, say some providers, puts their programs in a bind. “I’m concerned that Mullgrav is going to be bringing in private money and compete against the [community based organizations],” said Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, a confederation of settlement houses active in youth development. “I don’t believe there are sufficient private foundation dollars to provide support for all this. Where do they think the CBO programs will find the money?”

–Tracie McMillan