Thousands of Toddlers Homeless in NY, Thousands of Free Child Care Seats Empty

January 28, 2015 7:52 pm Last Updated: June 24, 2015 7:57 pm

Some 9,000 children six years old and younger are homeless in New York City, states a report by the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs (CNYCA), released Wednesday. Meanwhile thousands of city-paid child care spots are empty.

The report shows 20,000 children are housed in the city’s homeless shelters. Almost half of them are under six years old and the number grew by 60 percent since 2006.

The problem hits black children from low-income families particularly hard, with more than one in five ending up in a shelter at some point before reaching the age of five.

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Child care can help in these cases, as it gives the children a safe place to stay and the parents more free time to pick themselves up.

The city spent over $500 million in the past two years to overhaul its subsidized child care to raise its quality, but has trouble filling the program. Thousands of seats remain empty, according to CNYCA, a progressive think tank.

The report points out homeless children would benefit the most from the program, but often don’t because of lack of communication between the agency responsible for the child care program, Administration for Children’s Services, and the agency responsible for the shelters, Department of Homeless Services.

Since 2006, the state has had a program, called TEACHS, which should help homeless children get an education, but preschool education hasn’t been a priority. That changed last year, when the new mayor Bill de Blasio made prekindergarten his flagship initiative.

TEACHS sent its people to shelters last summer to teach workshops about the importance of child care.

But it is hard to tell if the initiative was successful, since the city doesn’t track how many homeless children enroll in its child care system, according to Jennifer Pringle, TEACHS project director.

What Pringle learned though was that homeless parents have trouble getting their children in child care.

First, shelter administrators don’t see it as a priority. Heavy influx of homeless make the shelters focus more on looking for permanent housing than child care for their clients.

But homeless families spend an average of 400 days in shelters. And while parents are busy trying to make their many appointments, a year in the life of a two-year-old makes a world of difference in intellectual development, research shows.

And even if parents find subsidized child care on their own, they first have to prove they are eligible—with a different city agency—and then come back with the proper documentation. The paperwork load may hinder or even stop the family from trying.

Yet Pringle said the eligibility for child care can be sorted out right when the family is admitted to a shelter. If only the agencies let each other know.

“It certainly seems like that process needs to be streamlined,” she said.

Pringle hopes, with the new administration, the agencies will make it a priority.

The Department for Homeless Services “remains committed to providing a safe environment for all clients,” according to its spokeswoman Jaslee Carayol’s email response. “We are engaging all high-risk families to ensure their access to the proper social services and supports,” he said.

The Administration for Children’s Services didn’t respond to a request for a comment.