Comptroller Stringer Investigation: Child Care Centers in City Shelters Put Homeless Children at Risk

More than 80% of Shelter Childcare Workers Missing Either Criminal or Child Abuse Screening

Investigation Finds 41% of Shelter-based Child Care Rooms Sampled had no Sprinklers and Nearly 20% had no Fire Extinguishers

The Number of Homeless Children Aged Three and Under in Commercial Hotels Skyrocketed 224% This Summer

New York, NY – (RealEstateRama) — City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer today released a wide-ranging investigation that found dangerous shortcomings in how child care services are provided to children age zero to three in City shelters, including a failure to ensure that child care workers undergo criminal background checks or enforce basic health and safety standards.  In short, the report found that child care services at City shelters are not subject to the same health and safety regulations that govern child care facilities outside of shelters.

Last December, the Comptroller’s Office released an audit that showed serious safety, security and health issues at shelters for families with children, leading to an unprecedented response by the Department of Homeless Services to address the findings. Building on that audit, this new investigation found that child care services at City shelters were not subject to the same health and safety regulations as all other child care sites, resulting in lower standards for staff screening, training and the physical condition of the facilities.

The investigation released today found that the largest population served by the Department of Homeless Services is children age zero to five, and that the average length of stay in shelters for those children is now 412 days, an increase over previous years – underscoring the importance of providing quality child care to this vulnerable population.  The investigation also documented a 224% increase in the number of children placed in commercial hotels between April and August of 2016 – facilities that have no on-site child care services at all.

“This investigation reveals that New York City has created two standards of care—an inferior system for homeless children and one for everyone else,” Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said. “We found a lack of oversight in shelters that we inspected, as well as conditions that would give any parent nightmares – and that is not acceptable. There should be one health and safety standard for all child care facilities in New York City, regardless of where their children go to sleep at night. That’s why I’m calling on the City to conduct a full census of our youngest homeless children that focuses not just on where they reside, but on whether they’re actually getting the services they deserve.”

Because child care centers in City shelters do not have a formal permitting process and are not subject to Department of Health and Mental Hygiene standards, severe shortcomings are rampant. For instance, the Comptroller’s Office found that:

  • Based on surveys of all 43 City shelters with unpermitted child care centers on site, 82 percent of child care workers in these shelters had not been screened for either criminal convictions or records of child abuse, or both.
  • In addition, 49 percent of the child care employees at these sites did not have valid training in child abuse and maltreatment identification, reporting, and prevention.
  • In person inspections by the Comptroller’s Office of the child care rooms in 21 shelters that have no City child care permits revealed that:
    • 41 percent had no sprinklers;
    • 18 percent had no fire extinguishers;
    • 9 percent of the designated emergency exit doors were locked from the inside at the time of inspection and were not equipped with an emergency push bar; and
    • 30 percent of the shelter-based child care centers had insufficient outdoor space and 20 percent lacked an outdoor play area.
  • More than one-fourth of all shelters for families with children operate child care centers onsite without any permits from City government.
  • Although ACS funds subsidized child care vouchers and early education programs for children as young as six weeks of age, the Comptroller’s investigation found that ACS and DHS used different methods for tracking children. As a result, neither agency could identify which children in the shelter system received some form of subsidized child care through ACS, and which did not.

For many other children in the City shelter system, child care services are not even an option – either because they are not offered or because of other regulatory barriers that prevent families from accessing them. The Comptroller’s Office found:

  • 99 of the 167 shelters housing families with children (59 percent) offer no on-site child care or “linkage agreements” with child care providers. A linkage agreement is required by a shelter contract, and commits a shelter services provider to connect children with locally-based child care.
  • Nearly 3,000 children under age 3—who are too young for other City-supported programs, such as Head Start and Universal Pre-K—live in City shelters that do not offer child care services.
  • 70 percent of the shelters with on-site child care had some eligibility requirements that restrict access to childcare services.
  • This problem is exacerbated by the City’s increasing reliance on commercial hotels to house homeless families – facilities that provide no on-site child care at all. In May 2015, there were no families with children in DHS commercial hotels at all. By mid-August of 2016, the number of children age zero to three in commercial hotels had risen 224 percent since April 2016.
  • The length of stay across all shelters among families has also risen dramatically, averaging 412 days – up 28% since 2007.
  • As of August 15, 2016, 18.5 percent of all families in DHS shelters for families with children had a head of household who was in DHS shelter as a child.

“We need bold action today to give homeless families a chance to break this devastating cycle tomorrow. That we have such extraordinary regulatory loopholes should alarm all of us. We need to fix it—and we need to fix it now,” Comptroller Stringer said.

The Comptroller’s recommendations and full report can be found here.

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