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Board of Health Amends Health Code, Enhancing Regulatory Oversight and Safety for Drop-Off Childcare at Shelters Citywide

September 28, 2017

Parents who have recently entered shelter will have expanded flexibility to use drop-off childcare services

NEW YORK— Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio, Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks, Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, joined by not-for-profit homeless services providers, today announced that the Board of Health has voted to amend the Health Code to enhance the safety and welfare of children at 37 shelter-based drop-off childcare facilities across New York City. Developed in close collaboration with the Department of Homeless Services and originally proposed at the June 12 Board of Health meeting, the amendment will extend the city’s childcare regulations and authority to city family shelters, ensuring that the facilities’ physical plant and egresses met safety standards, and that the childcare supervisors meet educational requirements. During the Board's notice and comment period, eight entities, including community-based organizations, homeless advocates, and elected officials offered feedback on the proposed amendment. Responsive to comments from community and not-for-profit homeless service provider partners, the amendment adopted by the Board on Tuesday September 12  increases flexibility for parents needing additional support during their first several months in shelter. Additionally, the Health Department will allow time for shelter-based drop-off programs to come into compliance with staff educational requirements. The health and safety provisions of the amendment did not change from the original proposal.

“Access to child care is critical for families in shelter, as it provides an opportunity for parents and caregivers to search for permanent housing or employment as they stabilize their lives,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio. “I am proud to announce enhanced health and safety regulations for drop-off child care at family shelters, which will work to ensure that families across the city can access high-quality child care, no matter where they live.”

“Our first and foremost concern is for the health and safety of the young children who attend shelter-based child care,” said Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “This amendment ensures that our littlest New Yorkers in shelter have the same protections as those at City-regulated sites, while also giving homeless families the flexibility they need to provide child care for their children while taking steps to improve their lives. I want to thank WIN and other shelter providers and advocates for their very thoughtful and helpful comments, which ultimately improved the proposal.”

“As we work to turn the tide on homelessness, ensuring that families experiencing homelessness have the services and supports to succeed are our top priorities. Safe, secure and high-quality childcare that provides parents with the opportunity to search for permanent housing and employment as they stabilize their lives will help us go further in delivering on that goal,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “This amendment ensures that our youngest homeless neighbors receive the attention, supervision and safe environment that they deserve, and I am grateful to our City agency and not-for-profit partners for their collaboration as we reimagine a shelter system that enables and empowers families experiencing homelessness to get back on their feet.”  

“In recent years, we have simply seen too many tragic deaths of children due to negligence, especially in the homeless or child welfare system. That is precisely why we need reform now, and urgently,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “On behalf of the Council, we are proud to join Commissioner Banks in his efforts to improve child care facilities in shelters, and we remain committed to helping alleviate the myriad difficulties that homeless New Yorkers – especially children – face.”

“Parents and families who seek shelter in our city deserve the help they need to stabilize their children’s lives and their own, and that includes high-quality, flexible childcare services that meets the highest standards,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I thank Commissioner Banks, Commissioner Bassett, and the Board of Health for developing and adopting these amendments to the Health Code to improve shelter-based childcare.”

“I applaud the efforts of this partnership to bring higher safety, health, and space standards to our City’s child care drop off sites at shelters. These regulations will ensure that our most vulnerable residents get the utmost care for their children in a time when they are most in need,” said Assembly Member Robert J. Rodriguez. 

"A number of months ago, the city proposed a series of changes in their regulations that oversee childcare at homeless shelters. We at Win had concerns that these would unintentionally limit access to consistent, on-site quality, trauma-informed childcare in shelters. In response, we developed a set of recommendations which we felt would better improve the city’s changes as that much more of a positive force for families,” said Christine C. Quinn, President and CEO of Win, formerly Women in Need. “All too often, these exchanges can be tense or lead to stalemates or disagreements. It is with a gratitude and a tremendous sense of pride that we can report a truly collaborative process between providers and the city that prioritizes safety and places the needs of mothers and children first. All told, it’s a win-win for homeless families in New York who, with the city’s help, can move that much closer to breaking the cycle of homelessness once and for all.”

“Safe, high quality child care and early education are critical for all of our youngest New Yorkers- especially for homeless children. We appreciate the efforts the administration is taking to increase the quality of care for children in the shelter system, and we look forward to working with the city and the providers to both implement the new health code regulations and to ensure homeless infants, toddlers and preschoolers have prioritized access to child care programs,” said Jennifer March, Executive Director of Citizens’ Committee for Children.

"We appreciate the City’s focus on connecting young children living in shelters with high-quality early childhood education programs, which are proven to have significant educational benefits for children.  Through efforts including targeting outreach to increase pre-K enrollment among children living in shelters and developing quality standards for drop-off child care programs in shelters, the City is helping to ensure that these children have a safe, supportive, developmentally appropriate environment where they can prepare for kindergarten, while their families work to access permanent housing and other needed support," said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.

“In between working, looking for an apartment, and raising my two children, my time is limited. Knowing my children are safe and cared for during the day, while I work, makes my life a lot easier,” said Tashunda Tucker, resident at Win. “Having these services right where I live, instead of somewhere else, lets me spend more of my time working and looking for an apartment of our own. It’s great to know that the city has my back.”

The original amendment had imposed a ten hour weekly cap on drop-off childcare service usage by parents. Following feedback from homeless services providers, the amendment was revised to offer additional flexibility for those parents new to shelter. For a family’s first 90 days in shelter there will be no cap on use of drop-off services. This will allow the family to settle in and arrange for childcare outside the shelter. After 90 days, the cap would be 20 hours per week. Finally, the cap may be modified for families with outlying circumstances, such as they do not qualify for subsidized childcare, or there is no capacity available in community-based childcare centers in the vicinity of the shelter.

In April 2016, the City released the results of a 90-day review of homeless programs, which examined all aspects of homeless services and made recommendations for improvements. One outgrowth of the 90-day review was the convening of an internal Task Force on Child Care and Day Care in Homeless Shelters, made up of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and other partner agencies, to examine the childcare services available to homeless children and develop recommendations. Current New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) regulations in 18 NYCRR Part 900 require licensed Tier II shelters for families with children to provide parents with access to childcare so  parents can meet their shelter-related social services obligations. Under this OTDA regulation, childcare may be provided through one of three ways: (1) on-site licensed full-time day care; (2) on-site (currently unlicensed) “supervised care” also known as drop-off childcare; or (3) referral to off-site licensed full-time day care.

The purpose of on-site unlicensed “supervised care” programs is to allow parents to attend housing, social service and other obligations. These are not meant to be full-time licensed day care programs. As such, the OTDA Tier II regulations on on-site supervised care programs set a basic minimum: they require staff to have unspecified experience and training, but do not require specific background checks or establish physical space and safety standards (i.e. window guards, panic bars, a second means of egress).

In the fall of 2016, as part of the Task Force’s work, the DOHMH conducted a system-wide review of on-site shelter childcare programs by visiting shelters. As a result, the City required some shelters to immediately remediate harmful risks and violations, including requiring background checks for staff and physical repairs. In addition, the Task Force examined the regulation of these on-site childcare programs.

Based on the site visits to “supervised care” programs in shelter, the Task Force recommended that the City amend Article 47 of the NYC Health Code to: require all childcare programs in shelter to be licensed by DOHMH; and create a new permit category specifically for “supervised care” programs in shelter. Requiring that all childcare programs in shelter receive a DOHMH permit would enable the City to consistently enforce and regulate standards that assure child safety and sufficiently mitigate the risk of harm. Creating a new permit category would allow the City to differentiate between the requirements of licensure for shelters operating “supervised care” programs from the requirements for other licensed day care programs.

The Task Force is also promoting Universal Pre-K and full-time licensed childcare through outreach in shelter, and, as a result, DHS shelters have strengthened referrals to these programs. These steps, along with the proposed regulation, aim to increase access for homeless children to early educational services that offer enrichment, a nurturing environment, improved supervision, and a daily routine, while parents obtain the services necessary to assist them to return to independence.

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