Duffield Children’s Center, a preschool program run by Brooklyn Community Services (BCS), has offered public and sliding-scale early childhood education, Head Start and after-school programs for low-income parents and children in downtown Brooklyn for more than 20 years. It is the only childcare center in its Fort Greene neighborhood providing low-cost and sliding-scale services to income-eligible parents, and one of only two childcare centers in downtown Brooklyn. Now, it is likely to be a casualty of New York City’s effort to downsize its public childcare system.
Last year’s budget crisis prompted the City to target 16 childcare centers for closure based on criteria such as low enrollment, disrepair, and low quality services―none of which afflict Duffield. It has the misfortune to be located in a building owned by a private landlord. The City paid this landlord directly for rent, which funded 90 slots for infants and toddlers. Due to a rent increases, the City is ending its lease contract with the private landlord. While this decision is not in itself unjustified, the position it leaves the Duffield Children’s Center in certainly is.
Last year, when this news first came to light, New York City Council Member Letitia James, a representative of Brooklyn, stood by BCS and made sure that the City funded Duffield’s operating costs. This allowed the preschool to survive an additional year. The City has now informed Duffield that it will receive no funding for their operating or facility costs this year, a loss of $1.3 million. BCS is not giving up, however, and is advocating for the restoration of this funding and pursuing independent negotiations with the private landlord to secure space at its current location for an additional year.
Additional complexities also come into play. Although the federal government does not contribute to rent costs, it funds a Headstart program that the Duffield Children’s Center is responsible for running. If Duffield closes, Brooklyn loses $500,000 in federal funding, and the City contract renewal is also at stake. This intricate process leaves not-for-profit organizations to compete for limited funding, providing no guarantee.
Duffield’s preschool program is always fully enrolled (with a waitlist), so were Duffield to close or change locations, effective redistribution efforts would be complex if not impossible. Shockingly, 11 of the 16 centers proposed for closure by the Mayor are located in Brooklyn, leaving families with nowhere else to turn for childcare. Duffield serves many preschoolers who are living in poverty and show signs of developmental language delays, yet these children leave Duffield prepared for kindergarten and first grade. In fact, Root Cause, a Cambridge-based research firm, rated Duffield as one of the top seven child-care centers in New York City out of 1,700. Its educational program leads the way in early childcare.
This standard of excellence and model of leadership is what drives Duffield to survive the challenges it faces today. As Doug Brooks, Director of Children and Family Services, told me, “Despite the possible threat of closure, the families still believe in us. The teachers, who could be out of a job, show up every day.” The commitment from Brooklyn Community Services to collaborate with and serve the downtown Brooklyn community is a model for early childhood programs everywhere. Policymakers should take every step necessary to preserve it.
Contributed by Zan Margolis
of the Human Services Council of NYC