In Harlem, frustrated parents hope new funding can fix their childcare desert


These are the parents Governor Kathy Hochul intends to reach with the latest batch of federal funds dedicated to the child care crisis. On Tuesday, the governor announced more than $68 million in new funding for child care providers in the state’s child care deserts. More than $16 million will go to 70 new vendors in New York for staffing and personnel costs, an average of about $238,000 per vendor.

Jeannine Smith, assistant director of communications for the state’s Office of Child and Family Services, said the office will not release the names of providers who have received grants until licenses are completed.

More than 60% of the state is considered a child care wilderness, defined as an area with at least three children under age 5 for every available space. Heads of state have prioritized closing this gap, which has long been known to be a barrier to returning to work. On July 5, Hochul opened $343 million in federal funding for child care businesses and nonprofits across the state, and Mayor Eric Adams on June 28 announced a plan to spend $2 billion.

A tipping point

For Jennifer March, executive director of the Citizens Committee for Children of New York, the latest round of grants for new child care centers is just the first step.

“The subsidies themselves are positive because the sector itself is in crisis,” she said. “But this is the start of an ambitious agenda to achieve universality,” she added, referring to the idea of ​​publicly funded universal childcare. March described the industry’s current moment as a tipping point.

Even in child care deserts, New Yorkers face differences between publicly funded and private programs. New York policymakers have taken a number of steps to expand access to public programs, such as raising the income eligibility threshold for who can receive subsidies to 300% of the federal poverty level, or $83,250 for a family of four, in the latest state budget. . Adams provides vouchers to parents in 17 low-income neighborhoods.

As child care deserts exist more frequently in low-income areas, recipients of these funds are more likely to serve parents using subsidized options. But care shortages plague both public and private options.

The causes are complex, but experts say the workforce of nannies, day care providers and other carers has largely failed to sustain itself, leading to shortages and gaps in care. For parents, the problems may seem bigger than individual grants can solve.

Take the case of Wiles, the mother living in Harlem. She and her husband work full time and need to babysit their 4-year-old and 8-month-old sons. When she finally found a place in daycare, which costs $2,400 a month, for her youngest, she encountered a new problem: the daycare repeatedly sent her son home with an apparent illness.

When Wiles took him in for a checkup, his doctor said his son was perfectly healthy and he couldn’t think of a reason the daycare would make such a claim. “There was a week where he was sent home three times in seven days,” Wiles said.

For parents who rely on nannies or babysitters, these unexpected gaps and high turnover among babysitters can keep them constantly on the lookout for new providers. Critics of the system have long pointed to low pay and difficult hours for carers as the root causes. The average wage for child care workers in New York City is $15.89 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Several parents in Harlem said they paid more than that, often $27 to $30 an hour. If they find staff members through an agency, they can pay $300 for the search fee, and the agency often takes 15% to 20% of the caregiver’s salary. Avoiding agencies simply takes more time from parents, who use Facebook, word-of-mouth and websites, among other sources, to find caregivers.

“I can’t keep posting to the same places over and over again,” Wiles said.

In a 2021 report, the NYC Child Care Resource & Referral Consortium identified top priorities for the city, including expanding availability of non-traditional child care and access to immigrant communities.

Goodson said she hopes more caregivers and daycares will enter the industry because the decision to choose care for her child is not one she takes lightly.

“My daughter has special needs, and we need someone to give her a little extra care and attention,” she said. “You can’t trust everyone with your kids.”


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