Subsidized Child Care Overhaul Shuts the Door on Many Home-Based Providers
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On a cool Friday afternoon, 10 bright-eyed toddlers played outdoors, giggling and speaking Russian, before heading inside for a homemade lunch. During the week, they spend more time with Iraida Tkacheva, their child-care provider, than they do with their working parents.
Tkacheva has transformed nearly every room in her Bensonhurst house to cater to the children’s needs: an area with tables and chairs where the toddlers eat, a library full of children’s books, a nap area surrounded by walls plastered with educational posters, and a backyard that accommodates toys for playtime with security gates and enclosed circuit cameras to ensure the children’s safety at all times.
Yet once the mayor’s ambitious overhaul of the city’s child-care system takes place on October 1, through a program called EarlyLearn, Tkacheva and hundreds of people who offer subsidized child-care in their homes are set to lose their jobs if funding falls through.
EarlyLearn – one of Bloomberg’s latest education reforms before he leaves office next year – sets out to increase the quality of publicly funded early childhood education while distributing child-care slots to the neediest neighborhoods. It is, according to some advocates, the biggest change to the city’s child-care services in 40 years.
Criticism of EarlyLearn has focused on the fact that it reduces the overall number of early childhood seats. But another major change — about who the city is hiring to provide child care in private homes — has some child-care advocates concerned.
Until now, home providers who work with small groups of children have largely been part of networks that manage and oversee everything from the instructional activities that help children prepare for kindergarten to the meals that are served. Under EarlyLearn, they will become an offsite component of day care centers that, for the most part, have only served older children in a single location.
The EarlyLearn contracts that the city’s Administration for Children’s Services issued last month stripped existing family care networks of seats. And half of the day care-based networks that won contracts have never provided family care services before.
ACS officials said they preferred networks that offered both family care and center-based services so children can move seamlessly over time within the same program.
“Our goal in all of this is to have as little disruption to the families as possible,” said Myung Lee, the deputy commissioner of the Child Care division in ACS. EarlyLearn restricts the age of children in family care – after a child turns 4, they are expected to attend a day care center.
But family care advocates said that the new contracts will introduce inefficiencies because inexperienced networks will have to do the work that existing networks have been doing for decades. Two of the networks that didn’t get contracts, the Jewish Child Care Association and the East New York Family Child Care Center, have been providing family care more than four decades.
“We are devastated and perplexed over why the city would eliminate family child care networks, given the fact that they are a vital and essential part of the early childhood system in this city,” said Andrea Anthony, the executive director of the Day Care Council. “The majority of care for children 3 months to 2 years old is done by family child care providers.”
The changes to the city’s subsidized child-care system could cost about 2300 family care providers their livelihoods if they aren’t hired by the networks that received the new contracts.
“We’ve been in this business for over 40 years. I really don’t understand the situation,” said Almarie McCoy, the executive director at the East New York Family Care Center. Since finding out that the center lost ACS funding, McCoy has been helping the providers she works with fix their resumes and practice their interviewing skills. “We’re trying to prepare the staff for employment elsewhere.”