Child care at city homeless shelters ‘would give any parent nightmares,’ comptroller says

An outdoor play area at a Manhattan shelter (New York City Comptroller's Office)

An outdoor play area at a Manhattan shelter (New York City Comptroller’s Office)

NEW YORK —The conditions of child care centers at city homeless centers would give any parent nightmares, according to a report released by the city’s comptroller Wednesday.

More than a quarter of the centers don’t have permits and 82 percent of staffers have not had a criminal-background check, Comptroller Scott Stringer found.

“This investigation reveals that New York City has created two standards of care—an inferior system for homeless children and one for everyone else,” 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.”

Nearly 24,000 children live in homeless shelters around the city, but more than half of shelters housing families with children don’t provide child care on site, according to Stringer’s audit. They also don’t have agreements with other shelters to provide care.

The situation is exacerbated by the city’s decision to begin placing children in the city’s homeless hotels, which don’t provide child care.

The number of children under the age of three alone placed in commercial hotels grew 224 percent between April and August 2016, records show. No families with children lived in these hotels in May 2015.

“The comptroller’s right that commercial hotels aren’t ideal for homeless New Yorkers,” said mayoral spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis. “That’s why he should support the construction of shelters rather than continuing to court fringe neighborhood groups that oppose shelters and also the use of hotels.”

The Department of Homeless Services is working with several other agencies to improve child care in shelters, Worthy-Davis said.

Nearly $30 million has been budgeted by the city to fund programs supporting students in shelters. The Education Department is hiring attendance teachers to work directly in shelters. It’s also adding social workers to 32 schools serving large populations of students in shelters.

But for now, shelters with child care aren’t providing quality services, Stringer said. Child-care centers in city shelters are not  subject to standards from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Only about half of employees at homeless shelter child-care centers have training in child-abuse identification, reporting and prevention.

The areas themselves are also unsafe in case of emergency, Stringer’s report found. Many child-care rooms have no sprinklers, fire extinguishers or designated emergency exit.

They also lack outdoor spaces and play areas.

“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,” Stringer said.