CHILD CARE CHANGE-UP

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Parents, day care workers, community leaders, and children rallied at City Hall last Wednesday to protest the imminent closing of school-age child care programs in day care centers funded by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services and the transfer of the funding to the Department of Youth and Community Development’s Out of School Time program.

The change is intended to save money by consolidating the city’s contracts for school-age child care centers, but leaves many parents worried their children will receive a lower standard of care from the transition between union and non-union caregivers. They are also concerned because DYCD’s child care centers are located in or close to only a fraction of the schools currently served by ACS.

Michael Ognibene, chief of staff for the DYCD, says these fears are unfounded. The year-old Out of School Time program “has a slot for every school-age participant in an ACS program. Priority enrollment allows parents of children in ACS programs to seek placement in specific programs,” Ognibene wrote in an e-mail.

But some parents still worry about the quality of the service. ACS daycare centers provide the children with “plenty of space for their out-of-school activities, as against being cooped up all day in a school classroom,” according to Sandy Socolar, Senior Policy Analyst for the day care workers’ union, District Council 1707, AFSCME. Instead, students participate in a variety of educational projects and outdoor games. Brooklyn mother Elaine Manatu told those assembled at the rally that she feared her children being sent to a “holding pen.”

The parents of ACS school-age children have been notified they are eligible to receive voucher funding in September that they can use to pay for child care of their choice. That could include keeping their children in their ACS center if the center decides to keep its school-age classrooms open with the ACS voucher funding. The ACS day care centers were established decades ago near public schools where their services were most needed. Most of the centers have provided both full-time day care for young children and structured after-school supervision for older children.

Ognibene says the level of service for children will be the same. “The City of New York will continue to provide high-quality after-school services to our children in partnership with providers that meet strict criteria and high standards, and which are staffed by experienced, trained individuals,” Ognibene wrote in his e-mail.

Andrea Anthony, executive director of the Day Care Council of New York City, said she shared parents’ concerns, but advised a “wait and see attitude.” [07/03/06]

This story has been corrected.