Indiana Daily Student

YMCA leaves Bloomington families scrambling for quality child care

<p>Four-year-old Parker Foust cuts paper to make a reindeer craft during Breakfast with Santa in 2013 at the YMCA. The YMCA had to shut down their childcare program because they could no longer afford the financial subsidies required to remain a licensed child care center.</p>

Four-year-old Parker Foust cuts paper to make a reindeer craft during Breakfast with Santa in 2013 at the YMCA. The YMCA had to shut down their childcare program because they could no longer afford the financial subsidies required to remain a licensed child care center.

Last November, 87 families received an email from the YMCA of Monroe County saying the YMCA's child care service would be shutting down Dec. 22, 2017, giving the working families little time to find care for their children.

The YMCA’s Center for Children and Families was started in 2013 as a licensed child care center to offer educational services and care to children six weeks to five years old.

In a press release from Nov. 3, the YMCA stated they could no longer support the financial subsidies required to remain a licensed child care center.

But for many of the 87 Bloomington families affected by the closure, financial reasoning for shutting down the program hasn’t been enough of an answer.

“It is with a heavy heart we make this announcement,” said Dr. Jason Winkle, the YMCA of Monroe County CEO, in the press release. “It was certainly not an easy decision to make as it significantly impacts the lives of our YCCF families and staff members.”

Jodi Baker, marketing and communications director for the YMCA, said in an email that the YMCA has subsidized nearly $100,000 dollars each year for the program to remain open. Additional subsidies have totaled nearly $100,000 dollars each year on average for the program.

Depending on the age of the child, the YCCF cost families between $205 and $274 dollars a week per child. This was on top of what members paid to be a part of the YMCA. For two adults with children to be members, it costs $74 dollars a month with an initiation fee of $100 dollars.

“We always ran a deficit,” Baker said. “With all those subsidies even going toward the program, we were still always operating in a deficit each year." 

Families said they were not aware that the child care program was under any financial strain. The 2016 and 2015 annual reports from the YMCA do not list the specifics of the YCCF's deficit. The 2015 report showed a profit of $179,136, while the 2016 report showed a profit of $226,554.

Shortly after it was announced the YCCF was being shut down, a petition, Facebook page and website was started to bring families together in an attempt to save the program.

The petition, “Save the YCCF,” garnered 231 signatures. The website, under the same name, posted 11 open letters from families expressing what the YCCF meant to them and their children, as well as their frustration about the program ending and the way the announcement was handled. The Facebook page posted testimonials about positive experiences at the YCCF, some of the open letters from the website and a photograph of an empty cubby.

Rebecca Warren is a working mother of three children. Her older children, Jack and Evelyn, graduated from preschool at the YCCF. Her younger son, Zachary, attended the day care from when he was nine months old until the program ended.

Warren was sitting in her car on the way to the YMCA when she found out the program was shutting down. Sitting at a stop sign, she received an email that began “Greetings YCCF” from Winkle. The previous YCCF director had just resigned, so she said she thought the email was only announcing that the program was looking for a new director.

Warren said that when she saw what the email was about, she was flabbergasted.

“I was mad, sad and completely blown away all at the same time,” Warren said. “But, I was also really concerned because trying to find good, quality, appropriate and affordable child care in Bloomington for a child under three is next to impossible.”

Warren immediately called her husband to try and find a spot for their youngest son, Zachary. Afterwards, she went to the YMCA to seek answers.

Warren said when she arrived at the YCCF, she could feel the intensity of the room. Staff had been crying and administrators were standing around just staring at people.

“No one was ready,” Warren said. “You could tell, everyone knew it as soon as they walked in. We've got questions about this, we don't understand why this happened.”

Samantha Tirey is another working mother who relied on the YCCF to take care of her two children, Max, who is three years old, and Alex, who is four months old. She was on the Family Advisory Committee for the YCCF, which planned events and worked on improvements to the program such as raising money for better playground equipment.

Tirey didn’t find out about the closure until she arrived at the YMCA the day of the announcement. There, she saw a scene similar to what Warren described.

“I mean, you look at your teachers who you love, and you know that they're losing their jobs right before the holidays and that they're going to lose the children that they love,” Tirey said. “Some of these caregivers have been with these kids for two, three years. It's like losing your own child in that you don't get to see them every day or see them grow.”

Despite Tirey’s role on the Family Advisory Committee, she said the decision was a complete surprise. She was not aware the care center was under financial strain or in jeopardy of closing. 

Both Tirey and Warren managed to find appropriate care for their children, but it wasn’t easy. 

As of Thursday, Growing Hearts Daycare had 37 people on their waitlist for infants as well as waitlists for all their other age groups. ABC Academy had only two people on their infant waitlist, but said that would mean a family would have to wait until early March to get a spot. Children’s Village did not have a waitlist for infants but did for their other age groups. Rainbow Child Care Center did not have any waitlist.

“We toured a couple of facilities,” Warren said. “One facility we walked in, the director forgot we were coming. I remember the facility didn't smell good. The changing table was held together with masking tape, the toys were old and broken.”

The second place Warren went cost twice what they pay at their current day care. Warren nearly went with the third facility they toured before a former employee began accusing the staff and director of abuse and neglect. Amidst all of this, Warren was paying enrollment fees at all of those centers. Warren did not share the names of the facilities she toured.

The change was not only difficult on Warren and Tirey’s finances. It was also difficult on their children. Jan. 2 was Tirey’s son’s first day at his new school.

Tirey said her son has woken up in the middle of the night crying, asking if his new teachers would love him as much as his old teachers did.

“He's just been saying constantly that he's really sad,” Tirey said. “That he doesn't want to go to another school and that he's really sad.”

Both of the families have stopped their membership at the YMCA as a result of the decision and how it has been handled.

As the two families adjust, both continue to seek answers to why the program was shut down. Tirey said she has sent emails to the CEO, COO and CFO as well as the entire Association Board at the YMCA of Monroe County without a single response back. Warren said that her husband and other family members have tried to ask questions on the YMCA’s Facebook page but their comments were quickly deleted by the YMCA.

“I want to see them own up to this decision,” Warren said. “If they were that solid in making this cut of the program, they should be prepared to answer these questions and be solid in their reasoning in why they chose to do this instead of trying to wait for us to quietly go away.”  

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the YMCA's profits in 2015 and 2016 according to annual reports. The IDS regrets these errors.

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