Left In The Cold

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 [City News]

The agency responsible for the protection of children is being accused of putting them out of the center in the Bronx, they call home.

The Lucille Murray Day Care Center was closed January 11th.  Parents are saying they met with the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) who heard their cry to keep the center open; the pleas fell on deaf ears. “ACS has terminated the lease,” a source says.

The day after Thanksgiving, four ACS workers met with parents and told them there was nothing they could do and their child’s day care was going to be shut down. 

“Nothing we said or did that night changed or meant anything,” states April Phillips, whose 4-years old daughter has been attending the program for the past nine months.

“Our words, our concerns meant nothing. ACS did not say we are going to help you out and see if we can relocate your child. They just straight out said the center was shutting down.”

“I’m a student and the program is uplifting for both of us, not just my daughter.  All the centers around here are full.  I couldn’t find anything but this place and they helped me out a lot,” she notes.

It seems like a form of child abuse, especially when you overhear a three-year old child asking his mother: “Why is my school closing Mommy?”  Why should a three-year old have such a question on its mind? A question his mother has no answer to because no one seems to have gotten any answers about this abrupt closure right in the middle of a school year and during the holiday season. 

Recently, Union leaders from DC 1707 along with Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, parents and clergy held a press conference in one of the center’s classrooms in an attempt to stop the closure.  No one from ACS was present to answer any questions.  “ACS is showing a blatant disregard for the people who depend on its services,” Gotbaum says.  

It is going to be interesting how ACS will respond to the Public Advocate’s office, going forward. ACS already had the Lucille Murray Center closure written in stone. “ACS has had this kind of occurrence happen before and they bring in another provider for day cares services; why can’t they do that in this case?”  Gotbaum adds.  “Closing this center needlessly puts hundreds of families in a bind and may put children at risk as parents scramble to find other childcare options.”

The center has been in operation for almost 30 years and the roof and other needed repairs are the reasons ACS wants to close it down. “It is not ACS’s responsibility to repair a roof. The rest of the building is certified by the Department of Health, it is the roof – the top floor not being used.  It’s the owner of the building and his position is, he will repair as soon as ACS pays him rent,” notes Neal Tepel, Director of DC 1707. 

It is unclear how much rent the city owes and the real reasons for this closure.

These types of closures are becoming more common in areas like the Mott Haven section in the Bronx where you find a lot of construction being done in the area, which normally is followed by gentrification.  “Lucille Murray Child Development Center is the sixteenth childcare center to be closed in minority neighborhoods of need since January 2004,” says Raglan George Jr., Executive Director of DC 1707.

Is it a coincidence? A building across from the Lucille Murray Center has been converted into loft apartments and homeowners on the block have been approached by developers to sell their property. “The owners of the loft want this center for a school of their own,” says a staff member who does not give a name, alluding to more than just a roof problem here.

The Black Star News
contacted ACS Commissioner John Mattingly’s office and this statement was released by Press Secretary Sheila Stainback: “Children’s Services will not stand by and allow children to go to child care centers that fail to meet basic standards of integrity and care. Nor will we continue funding agencies that practice fraud. Children’s Services made the necessary decision to end contracts with Lucille Murray Child Development Center after the City’s Department of Investigation (DOI) found that there has been serious misuse of scarce public funds and board leadership failed to oversee program finances or to remove those involved in fraudulent activity. The DOI findings include misappropriation of City funds.”

A source tells The Black Star that the fight continues. “There are people fighting with different strategies---injunctions and so forth,” she says.

The Black Star
has learned that the City’s Department of Investigations (DOI) conducted an investigation on the Lucille Murray Day Care Center and sent ACS their findings in a memo alleging, “Misappropriation of funds.” However, there has been no charges or arrests made. If the center had financial and mismanagement problems in the past, why punish the children? 

ACS says all affected children will be placed elsewhere. Asked whether the shutdown was in the children’s best interest, an official says, “It is in the best interest of the children that they be in safe places, which we are now assisting parents in finding.” 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office referred calls to the ACS commissioner’s office.  In fairness, ACS spokesperson Sheila Stainback was very responsive on this matter, something we don’t normally come across everyday in this city.

2008 is supposed to be the year of “change” and “hope.” Let’s hope good things happen for the children, parents and staff in the Mott Haven section.

Contact Winkfield for his consideration regarding covering your own story: (347) 632-2272 By mail: On The Spot, Post Office Box 230149, Queens County 11423;  Email:
Bsnonthespot@aol.com or milton@blackstarnews.com; call (212) 481-7745. 

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