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Daycare for teen parents may be in jeopardy next year

A report out today by the New York Civil Liberties Union says the Department of Education should bolster its daycare program for students with young children of their own. But because of budget cuts, the DOE could actually move in the opposite direction, cutting off young parents’ access to free DOE-run daycare centers currently housed in 40 public schools across the city.

The programs, called LYFE centers, have existed since 1982. Last year, after the city eliminated special schools just for pregnant and parenting teens, saying that the schools were academically weak, the LYFE centers became the centerpiece of the DOE’s services for young parents.

Now the centers could also be on the chopping block, a possibility that has one editor of the report worried.

Without the LYFE centers, “the DOE would lack any real meaningful services for this very high-risk population,” Galen Sherwin, director of NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Program, told me. “The outcome would be devastating.”

The LYFE centers have already taken a hit from the faltering economy. In November, the city’s Administration for Children’s Services eliminated its payments to the DOE for the LYFE centers as part of its mid-year budget reduction. Until then, ACS had contributed nearly 25 percent of the centers’ budget.

The DOE was able to manage the cut this year, DOE spokeswoman Ann Forte told me. “There was no reduction of service,” she said. The centers currently enroll about 500 children, and Forte said they could accommodate nearly 150 more.

But officials said the situation could be different next year.

Cami Anderson, who heads the DOE’s alternative programs, told the Daily News yesterday that the DOE can’t guarantee the centers’ existence next year. And Forte told me today that the department hasn’t made any decisions yet about how it would fund the centers in the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Advocates fear that the program could disappear altogether.

“It’s a very real threat,” Sherwin said. She added, “Budget cuts for these services would be a shortsighted solution that would increase strain on the city coffers in the longterm.”

Sherwin said the centers have been “a very effective program” for those young parents who have managed to overcome bureaucratic hurdles, inadequate outreach, and inconvenient hours and locations and enroll their children. Those obstacles are the subject of NYCLU’s new report (pdf), which recommends expanding the number of LYFE centers and making it easier to enroll in them.

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