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A coming overhaul of the city’s after-school and summer child care is already causing chaos and confusion, say local parents.

At a June 29 hearing, nearly 200 low-income parents crowded into a sweltering elementary school auditorium for a hearing on the city’s new Out of School Time (OST) program. Slated to phase in by 2006, it was designed to condense a mish mash of programs previously housed at several different agencies, and to create a model for universal child care.

Ultimately, the city plans to transfer about 8,000 low-income children in programs overseen by the Administration for Children’s Services; roughly one-quarter will go this year. Children in programs supported by the After School Corporation and state Youth Development and Delinquency Prevention funding will also move to the new programs. At full capacity, roughly 65,000 children will fall under OST.

Officials at OST’s parent agency, the Department of Youth and Community Development, say children now served by ACS will be guaranteed space in the new program, and be given a 12-day head start over other parents on signing up when the program launches in September.

Yet some parents and advocates are fighting the change, even demanding its reversal. They say they don’t want to uproot their children or deal with finding a new caregiver they trust. What’s more, without OST programs open this summer, parents can’t visit to check them out.

“I don’t want to put my kids in a place that I’m not familiar with,” said Marie Kassombola, who says she’ll need to find a new center to care for her seven-year-old twins after school and during summers. Kassombola, an accountant, showed up to P.S. 4 to learn more after getting an announcement from ACS in the mail. Started an hour late, the meeting dissolved into chaos as frustrated parents charged the mic, demanded to extend the meeting, and chanted “No, No, No!”

“None of these programs are in my neighborhood,” said Jessie Mane, a hospital worker who sped straight to the parents’ meeting after work, still in her scrubs. While the city says it has located the services in high-need areas, advocates say many neighborhoods lost programs without gaining new ones.

“I know this is a difficult time for everyone,” said Jennifer Merino, an ACS associate deputy commissioner, at the meeting. “I’m not saying it’s easy.”

Still, DYCD points out, any ACS parent who doesn’t want to participate in the OST program can get a voucher for subsidized care, bypassing a waiting list of about 8,000.

That’s good for parents, said Sandy Socolar, a policy analyst for the city’s child care workers union, but could strain the city’s budget: The vouchers cost about $6,000 annually per child, compared to OST’s maximum of $2800 a child each year. If enough parents opt out of OST, “it’s going to cost the city far more,” said Socolar.

Other advocates agree and are pushing the city to postpone the rollout for a year. If not, services could suffer, says Andrea Anthony, executive director of the Day Care Council of New York City.

“They did not replace what was lost, and they did not expand what was there before,” said Anthony. “We’re going to have a lot of gaps in September.”

–Tracie McMillan

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