Come August, dozens of families with children enrolled in the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center’s Head Start program could find themselves without a slot in the program that will replace it.
A child care consolidation plan announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg last spring will mean that KHCC’s program for 3- to 5-year-olds will transition from a 40-seat Head Start program to a 61-slot city-run Child Care program this fall.
The mayor’s EarlyLearn NYC initiative streamlines child care services for low-income families under one umbrella group, and seeks to add more educational components.
But the city’s new method of determining which neighborhoods are most in need gave KHCC a “moderate” rating, according to the Administration of Children’s Services, leaving the city with no more Head Start funding by the time KHCC’s proposal was considered. KHCC was still one of 149 providers offered a contract under EarlyLearn NYC but will now only be offering Child Care for the 3- to 5-year-old age group.
Executive staff said the new program is not a good fit for Kingsbridge Heights families.
Head Start is free, while Child Care charges parents on a sliding scale based on their income and family size. The city only gives Child Care subsidy vouchers to low-income parents who work or are enrolled in school, which Batya Novick, director of KHCC’s family services, said may leave undocumented children stranded.
“A lot of undocumented folks have under-the-table jobs. Their employers are not going to be willing to disclose this,” Ms. Novick said. “Head Start allows for free pre-school so that they’re really ready for kindergarten. It was accessible to all in our community, which is very, very diverse.”
This year KHCC served 97 children in its Head Start program by allowing some of the 40 seats to be shared among part-time attendees. Ms. Novick said that will not be possible under the new program, which will mean 36 fewer children can be accommodated even though the program officially provides more seats than the previous one.
KHCC Executive Director Giselle Melendez-Susca said the city previously prioritized zip codes by borough but began highlighting zip codes most in need of child care city-wide when the EarlyLearn NYC was initiated. She said the new method overlooked pockets of need, such as Kingsbridge Heights.
“We’ve been providing Head Start here for 37 years in conjunction with a federal grant to do Early Head Start, so those two combined allow us to do a nice transition of quality care from 0 to age 5,” Ms. Melendez-Susca said. “That’s been decimated.”
While Head Start comes with federal mandates and benchmarks for what skills 3 to 5-year-olds should learn, KHCC said the Child Care program is similar to day care. The center has pledged to continue as many Head Start initiatives as possible this fall, but said limited funding from the city may force them to make cuts.
The city released a statement defending EarlyLearn NYC as an initiative that “will deliver high quality early care and education” to children of working families across the city.
Under EarlyLearn NYC, KHCC will manage a Head Start program in Eastchester. However, several Kingsbridge Heights families said commuting across the borough would be too expensive or time consuming.
Christina Ordonez, 40, said her search for a new educational program for her 3-year-old has been overwhelming because nearby Head Start programs were already full. Ms. Ordonez, whose first language is Spanish, said she’s struggling to find the time to check out programs and overcome a language barrier when speaking with prospective teachers.
“I’m working from 8 to 4:30. I can’t watch her. I’m working for her, to provide for her,” Ms. Ordonez said of her 3-year-old daughter who has a speech development problem. “These kids can’t stay at home with nothing to do. These kids need to be able to expand and grow … especially children with special needs.”
Yeniset Estrella, 34, of Kingsbridge Heights, said the KHCC Head Start helped her 15-year-old and 5-year-old daughters test into Gifted & Talented programs. Now, she’s worried she won’t be able to afford the $200-a-week cost of similar early childhood education programs when her toddler Xavier ages out of the Early Head Start program next year.
“He’s going to have to go next year. He’s going to lose everything because he’s going to be sitting in front of the TV all day,” Ms. Estrella said. “When you abandon your child, when you deprive your child from things that are needed, the city comes and takes them away and says, ‘You’re neglected.’ But what is it called when the city deprives them of an education? … The mayor is depriving them of an education.”