By TRINA MANNINO
Keshia Collins Brown relied on her two college-aged daughters to care for her 8-year-old daughter while she worked on-site at a Midtown bank during the coronavirus pandemic.
But as fall approached, Collins Brown’s older children were expected on campus, leaving her youngest without care. But there was another alternative she could consider.
Collins Brown’s youngest has attended summer camps and after-school programs at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center since kindergarten. While the pandemic reduced many of these programs at the Norwood facility and other locations, summer day camps north of town at Harriman State Park had restarted – which MMCC successfully ran without no reported cases of COVID-19, not just this year, but 2020 as well.
“I really commend Mike Halpern for this because my daughter didn’t get sick,” Collins Brown said of MMCC’s director of youth services, who oversees summer camp and after-school programming.
For this reason, the MMCC reopened its in-person services after school shortly thereafter. Without it Collins Brown would likely have faced a tough decision.
“I probably should have been unemployed or something,” she said. “I was very lucky not to have to go through this. “
But some families weren’t so lucky.
Waitlists to participate in MMCC’s after-school programs exceeded 400 at the end of last month, according to Halpern, a former public school teacher who has worked at the Dekalb Avenue center since 1991.
That’s because there simply aren’t enough group leaders – part-time after-school workers – to staff 34 of its 36 after-school locations.
At full capacity, MMCC’s after-school programs can serve up to 5,000 students.
MMCC’s staffing challenges are not unique, however. A recent survey found that one in three working families with young children lack adequate child care. As parents and caregivers across the country scramble to find ways to keep their children safe while they return to work, Congress remains divided over whether there is a place in the Build Back plan. Better from President Joe Biden, who is awaiting a not-so-bright fate in the US Senate, for strong support for child care.
One Wednesday in October, school-aged children waited patiently in the gymnasium at the main MMCC branch to climb an indoor climbing wall. After-school headmistress Katina Walker, wearing a pink hoodie declaring “mom’s life,” unrolled two buns over a young girl’s head so that a helmet could be worn. ‘fit securely.
“The best part is to have a positive impact on any child, to help them change their life in any way,” Walker said. “I love this part.”
Students took turns scaling the wall as after-school specialists spotted them, giving some a needed boost. The scene – despite the high-energy activity and concerns about understaffing – seemed orderly.
The main branch welcomed a dozen students that day. It is one of the few programs without a waiting list. Families are paying out-of-pocket for the program, making it far less in demand than other free and on-site programs in schools, Halpern said.
One of these programs was not far from Dekalb at PS 94 Kings College School. There, Alexa Valdez runs the after-school program. She worked in the child care field for eight years, three of them at MMCC. Before the pandemic, PS 94 served more than 230 students. Today, it accommodates less than half of them due to a lack of staff. Enrollment in MMCC’s after-school programs is a priority, with capacity based on a ratio of one group leader per 10 students.
Parents on the waiting list show up regularly to Valdez, begging for their children to be admitted. Non-English speaking parents, who often register their children for homework help and additional language practice, are particularly and strongly affected by the scarcity of places.
“I understand their frustration as parents who don’t have daycare and want to support their child,” Valdez said. “It’s sad.”
MMCC faces a number of challenges in trying to hire these much-needed part-time workers.
“It’s expensive,” Halpern said. “The reality is that all of the programs you see out there were designed when the minimum wage was $ 9 an hour.”
MMCC group leaders earn at least $ 15 an hour – the city’s minimum wage – typically attracting college-aged applicants.
Over the course of the fall, Halpern estimated he was getting about 10 resumes a week, and only two of them showed up for an interview. But even then, some final applicants either fail to complete the paperwork or choose not to vaccinate – an agency requirement.
Those who are hired go through a thorough background check, including fingerprinting. A process that once took a few days, Halpern said, now takes two to three weeks. And during the waiting period, some candidates find other jobs.
MMCC is also losing existing staff to the city’s education department, which Halpern says has a head start on after-school programs. With its budget and infrastructure, the school system can offer a wider range of opportunities, including more hours as well as full-time jobs with benefits.
“We are at the bottom of the food chain,” said Halpern.
Justine Modica, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University who studies the history of the child care workforce, believes broader government support – such as wage increases – could help thwart the massive bearing experienced by the industry.
“The quality of child care would improve tremendously if workers could actually stay on the ground and do the work they want to do,” Modica said.
During the pandemic, New York City introduced small measures to ease the burden on parents and providers. State and city-level elected officials presented their version of the Marshall Plan for Moms – legislation that, if passed, would create task forces to explore ways to better support working mothers and mothers. keepers.
“This shortage, along with other impacts of the pandemic on women, further underscores the need for our state to prioritize the needs of women and mothers,” said Senator Alessandra Biaggi, who sponsored the project. law in Albany, in a statement.
The state has also offered subsidies for child care as part of its response to the pandemic. MMCC, for example, received one of these grants to revive its after-school programs. There is also the State Essential Workers Bursary, which Collins Brown was able to take advantage of. He covers his childcare costs for three months.
When the scholarship ends on December 15, she will start paying $ 350 per week again. The working mother estimates that she spends 15% of her annual salary on after-school programs for her 8-year-old child.
That’s why Collins Brown welcomes increased government support for child care well beyond the pandemic.
“In urban areas it is very difficult to find daycare centers,” she says. “There are a lot of kids who are little or school-aged who need a daycare or after-school daycare for parents to work on improving themselves. “