Submitted by Janet O’Connell
Good, safe, reliable childcare outside of the home is an absolute necessity for working families. This need presents itself in families of all economic brackets. Choices and expectations have evolved for both parents and children, and today, first-time home buyers ask realtors what after-school care options are available as they look at towns and school districts. While our elementary schools offer a broad array of after-school programs and activities, those generally end before a parent’s work day does, leaving working parents in need of other child care options.
There are two “traditional” not-for-profit after school child care options in our community. KEEPS, Inc. is a state-registered child care program serving children from Mamaroneck Avenue School and the Rye Neck elementary schools. The other, Children’s Corner, serves children from the Central, Chatsworth Avenue, and Murray Avenue elementary schools.
“Keeping Kids Safe and Parents Working” is the motto for KEEPS, which started in 1983. The program is for school-aged children, grades K through six, and aims to provide a wide range of benefits for kids and their families. Since its inception, over 3,000 children have attended KEEPS and its “graduates” have gone on to be police officers, local politicians, doctors, editors, bankers and even a famous singer-actress.
Ann Marie Terrone, the retired director of KEEPS, noted that when KEEPS was started, there were only a few programs in Westchester County, and there were few state guidelines about how after-school programs should be run. Now, there are strict regulations overseen by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, which KEEPS complies with. She strongly urged parents to ask if a program is registered with the state, because if it is, parents know that it is safe and meets NYS criteria.
Noreen Corcoran, the current director of KEEPS who has worked there since 1997, explained that KEEPS offers a range of options for families: full time, part time, and drop-in on an as-needed basis. 60% of the children who attend KEEPS are from Mamaroneck schools, and 40% are from Rye Neck. 25% of the children attending KEEPS receive Department of Social Services subsidies.
Children are bussed to the KEEPS location at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Mamaroneck from the Mamaroneck Avenue, Bellows, and Daniel Warren Schools. Once they arrive at the KEEPS space, the kids can structure their after school experience as they want. Some eat, some start homework, some run around, others want quiet time. Tablets and other screens are not allowed. “We want our kids to have fun—time to play and to become good citizens.”
Parents pay an average of about $8 an hour for their child to attend KEEPS ($520 per month for five days), but this does not cover the entire cost of the program. Having a healthy cash flow is also challenging for KEEPS. About a quarter of KEEPS’ children receive state or county subsidies, but the Department of Social Services does not pay the full price per student; in addition, there is a two-month lag before KEEPS is reimbursed. In order to keep its doors open and keep the cost affordable for its families, KEEPS must undertake serious fundraising each year, from both private organizations and corporations.
Barbara Miglionico, the Director of Children’s Corner was not able to attend the Local Summit program, but Judge Christie Derrico, a Local Summit board member, shared information on this program. Founded in 1983 under the auspices of the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Committee for Family and Youth, the purpose of Children’s Corner is to provide a quality after school care program housed within the schools. Children’s Corner is a before and after-school care program for children in grades K through 6. The morning program, which runs from 7:40-8:30 a.m. is offered at the Central, Chatsworth Avenue and Murray Avenue schools. The afternoon program, housed at Hommocks, runs from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. Snacks and a wide variety of activities, from arts and crafts to reading and science, are provided. Children also have the opportunity to play outdoors. About thirty children use the program.
Children’s Corner is funded solely through tuition. Families are charged $95-$310 monthly for the morning program and $155-$610 for the afternoon program, depending on the number of days and the exact hours. Scholarships are available. Like KEEPS, Children’s Corner faces financial challenges as it struggles to keep its program affordable for its families.
AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAMS AT THE LIBRARIES
Susan Riley of the Mamaroneck Public Library noted that both libraries provide similar after-school programs and activities. She emphasized that the library is not intended as afterschool care; rather, it provides afterschool activities that require an age appropriate care giver (for the Mamaroneck Library that is defined as over 16) to supervisor minor children. “We are blessed with many programs. We try to have a balance between STEM-type programs and the arts because we think this is equally important.” The libraries offer programs for a range of ages, from very young to teens. Regrettably, occasionally, the libraries find that parents use their facilities for child care and some children get dropped off for the whole day. Parents, in a pinch, view the library as a safe haven, and both librarians reported that they have found children as young as five roaming around the library on their own, with no food, no money, and no adult supervision.
Larchmont Public librarian Laura Eckley agreed that the libraries do not function as child care givers like KEEPS but do offer many special after-school activities. Most programs last about an hour; programs may include a holiday celebration, do-it-your craft sessions, or program series on chess or cartooning. In addition to the after-school programs, the Larchmont Library offers morning programs for toddlers and their caregivers. Any child under the age of 9 must be accompanied by a care giver who is over the age of 18. She said, “Sometimes a ten-year-old is expected to look after a younger child . . . and we can’t allow that.” The libraries provide a wonderful space, but they are not home and not school.
CHILD CARE COUNCIL OF WESTCHESTER, INC.
Nicole Masucci, the Director of Family and Employer Services for the Child Care Council of Westchester, Inc., said that the goal of her not-for-profit agency is to ensure that every child in Westchester has access to quality education-based early care while parents are working. Her organization helps families find childcare and provides extensive training and professional development for the childcare community; it considers itself to be the “hub of childcare” for Westchester County.
Masucci noted that there are 2300 children between the ages of five and ten in the Larchmont/Mamaroneck area but only 187 regulated slots. While there are no statistics showing how many children need childcare, she suggested that there possibly are children who need a place to go but do not have access. She advised that a study would be needed to determine the real child care needs in the community.
Meanwhile, there is an abundance of childcare slots in Westchester, according to Masucci, and many of those programs are not filled to capacity; as a result, many regulated providers are experiencing financial challenges similar to KEEPS. Parents are also struggling with the cost of childcare, according to a recent study that Masucci cited; location, cost, and quality are the main factors parents consider when selecting a childcare option.
Regulated care is something Masucci’s organization promotes. Parents should always ask if a program is registered with the State, because if it, parents know that it is safe and meets strict State criteria. She cautions families to do their due diligence if hiring a babysitter, or choosing a childcare option that is not licensed by the State, to ensure that the caregiver is qualified and is appropriate and safe for the child.
Responding to a question from the audience, the discussion turned to serving the neediest children, those from minimum wage-earning families who are often using unsafe options. There are scholarships available but getting the word out is often difficult. Ms. Masucci, from the County Employer Services Child Care Council, said that when she comes across needy families, she tries to help them navigate the process with the Department of Social Services and offers scholarships. Ms. Corcoran added that she tries to let parents know that KEEPS exists and that there is a safety net that is available.
Summer presents other challenges for working parents. KEEPS does not operate in the summer months even though it used to, and the future of the local Co-op Camp is unclear, so there are gaps in childcare options when school is not in session. Co-op Camp uses the elementary schools and Hommocks for its programs, but its funding has been decreased by the School District. The libraries try to fill some of this need but must insist that children be accompanied by a child giver. Ms. Masucci said that there are County programs but cost is the biggest factor.
This breakfast forum was hosted by The Larchmont/Mamaroneck Local Summit, an informal community council that seeks to make life better for all in the tri-municipal area. Its monthly public meetings are held at the Nautilus Diner in Mamaroneck at 7:45 a.m. usually on the third Tuesday of the month. The next breakfast meeting will take place on Tuesday March 15th. Please join us to hear Mamaroneck Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps and Rye Neck Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Mustich discuss “The State of our Public Schools.”