The de Blasio administration will ask the Board of Health Tuesday to regulate childcare in homeless shelters, the Daily News has learned.
That includes limiting their hours, which one operator of family shelters says will do more harm than good.
The regulations, which will be brought before the board on Tuesday and be subject to a public comment period, apply to one of three options shelters have under state law for providing childcare: “drop-off” care, or childcare within the shelter itself, which is available at 43 shelters in the city. It has been regulated by the state but did not require a city childcare permit.
“The intention here is to ensure the safety of children and to support families in becoming stable,” Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks told The News. “And drop-off services are an option to enable families to look for employment or to look for apartments, but we want to make sure that those services aren’t a default in place of full-time daycare.”
In proposing a permit for drop-off services, the city would limit the care to 10 hours a week. That would encourage the use of other kinds of childcare available in shelters — on-site licensed care, operated as separate business than shelters and available at 8 shelters, or off-site licensed daycare — which includes universal pre-K, EarlyLearn or licensed daycare, which is often subsidized with vouchers.
But Christine Quinn, the former council speaker and mayoral candidate and now head of Win, a shelter network for women and children which provides on-site drop-off care, said in many neighborhoods they serve there are no voucher spots in quality daycare.
“It’s a fantasy,” she said. “It’s a fantasy.”
Quinn said she was “deeply, deeply concerned” about limiting the service to 10 hours a week — because on average, mothers use the childcare for 16 to 24 hours a week at Win, typically while they are working and keeping up with appointments.
“Why is that bad? Why would we want to pull that out from under our families?” Quinn asked. “This proposal, I don’t really know what’s driving it and it really disregards the needs of homeless children and undercuts working homeless mothers.”
She called the plan “wildly short-sighted” and argued that neighborhood daycare providers, even if they had open spots, could not account for the trauma that goes with being a homeless child — many of whom also come from homes with mental illness, drug challenges and domestic or sexual abuse.
But Banks said that a central focus of the city’s “Turning the Tide” plan — which will build 90 borough-based shelters in the next five years — is keeping people in their communities and connected to services there.
“For working, adults our first priority would be to connect the family to services in the community,” Banks said, in an effort to ease their transition back into the community when they leave shelter.
But Quinn said the fear that shelter residents will use up local resources was a major concern for residents in a neighborhood where Win is opening a new shelter.
“I looked those community members in the face and I said, ‘You don’t need to worry about that, because we bring that in our building. We’re not going to take community childcare,’” she said. “We’re already having trouble siting shelters. Why would we want to add that into the equation?”
Banks said that in areas where there may be a shortage of providers in the community, the city would work with shelter providers to replace their drop-off care with on-site, fully licensed child care. But that would require the care to be open to others in the community outside of the shelter population — which Quinn said would not work in Win’s setting, where guests to the shelter are all pre-screened.
Banks emphasized that the board is considering draft regulations and that there will be time for public notice and comment. The earliest they could be adopted would be September.
“Win is one of our highest quality providers and we will certainly be taking their perspective into account,” Banks said.
Other proposed regulations for drop-off include staff-to-child ratios, background checks and minimum education levels and training, non-toxic paint finishes, the installation of sprinklers and moving programs to the first floor of the building.
For the more expensive upgrades like sprinklers, shelters would be able to apply to the city’s existing shelter “new need fund” for money to complete one-time projects.