Day care funding formula could imperil Bklyn sites

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A new funding system is jeopardizing the future of Brooklyn’s day care centers.

“The administration has a new plan on how they’re going to fund child care centers, which a lot of us think will make it hard for them to survive,” said City Councilmember Bill de Blasio.

Under the new policy, the city Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) will only provide money to day care centers that have a full roster of children.

This is a departure from the way in which cash was previously distributed – upfront regardless of the number of children enrolled.

With many day care centers underutilized – meaning they fill less than 85 percent of their available seats – there are fears that many centers will ultimately close their doors.

“If a day care center is being underutilized, any normal person would think logically it would be one of two things – not many people in the neighborhood know about it or the people in the neighborhood know about it and don’t like it,” asserted Brooklyn community activist Carmen Colon.

Officials at ACS should “work on reaching out to the parents who need day care centers and the community boards who are supposed to have their fingers on the pulse of their neighborhood to get the answers as to what neighborhoods really need day care centers and why some of those day care centers are being used or not,” Colon continued.

Officials say they must alter ACS’s funding system so money is not wasted on unused seats, especially in light of the city’s economic crisis.

“Right now, there are families struggling in NYC who need child care and there are too many vacant seats going unused,” said ACS Commissioner John B. Mattingly. “It is only by serving the maximum number of children that the child care system can remain viable – and ACS can no longer pay for empty seats in child care centers while there are NYC children who need and are eligible for child care.”

Mattingly says ACS is trying to increase enrollment at underutilized day care centers to prevent closures.

“We have committed $2 million to assist day care centers with the marketing and recruitment and whatever technical assistance is needed to help them recruit income-eligible children in their neighborhoods – or to attract some families who can pay privately for child care,” Mattingly said. “We are also streamlining operations at the ACS child care Resource Areas to reduce the time it takes to determine eligibility and enrollment. Eligibility now takes on average two to five days, where it used to take weeks, in all boroughs, except Brooklyn and Staten Island.”

The application for subsidized child care has also been revamped to be “more easily comprehensible for parents,” Mattingly said.

If a day care center ultimately faces closure, steps should be taken to keep the facility open, de Blasio said.

“We’re talking about oftentimes poorly financed local non-profits that do very important work,” de Blasio said. “We want every seat filled but we want ACS to be very sensitive to the budget reality for these groups and not risk a group closing when the situation could have been solved.”

“We must give them enough time to fix the situation. If the situation can’t be fixed, find another organization that can come and take over,” de Blasio added. “That’s where I think we need to go.”

Updated 3:46 pm, October 19, 2011
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