Places for parents to leave their children while they work are scarce. There’s one childcare slot for every 10 children under 6 in the Hunts Point-Longwood area
By Hanan Tabbara
Photo by Joe Hirsch
There are plenty of children in Hunts Point and Longwood, but childcare is scarce.
For two weeks, Tanya Fields brought her seven-month-old baby, Thomas, to work with her. She had no choice. Her arrangement with a neighbor to care for the little boy had fallen through.
A single mother of three, Fields worked as an outreach coordinator at Sustainable South Bronx, headquartered in the BankNote building on Lafayette Avenue. “There were no ramps or elevators. I had to lug a carriage around, carry a bag and my baby up the stairs,” Fields said.
At first, her employer was “receptive,” she said, to the idea that she could bring her baby with her to work temporarily. But after a few days of having the baby at the office, that became an issue.
“He was very quiet, and everyone in the office loved him,” explained Fields. But “the office was not child friendly. So keeping the baby entertained while I worked was a hassle.”
Difficulty finding childcare has forced some parents in Hunts Point and Longwood out of work. Tyson Boothe, a father of three boys 1-, 2- and 3-years old, said his wife is currently unemployed because “she stays home to take care of the children.”
“There’s a liquor store at almost every street corner,” Boothe complained. “That is made convenient, but not childcare.”
Boothe, who is in the process of relocating with his family to Delaware, said he can’t afford childcare for his three children. “We want the children to start young and get a good early education,” he said, “but it’s not made affordable. It is terrible.”
Working parents, and especially working women, are confronted with challenges at every turn, from school schedules, which end their day at 3, while most jobs end at 5, to the scarcity and expense of programs to care for pre-schoolers, to the absence of reliable daycare for infants.
Women no longer stay home while their men work to support the family. But institutions have been slow to recognize the change.
In 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, women accounted for 46 percent of the U.S. labor force. A record 68 million women were employed, three-quarters of them in full-time jobs. But most Americans are tied to inflexible work schedules, and schools still operate on a schedule devised to let children help out on the farm.
This “child care gap” is especially acute in neighborhoods like Hunts Point and Longwood. As of 2007, there were 5,523 children 6 and under living in the area—11.5 percent of the population–according to the city’s Administration for Children’s Services. Only six licensed day care centers, with a total capacity of 577, served the area.
Maddy Centeno of Hunts Point Alliance for Children expressed concern about the lack of “real resources” available for parents with children under the age of 3 in the Hunts Point-Longwood area.
The only form of care that is available for this age group is the “unlicensed kind,” Centeno said in an interview—“the my neighbors will take care of your baby kind.”
Others trying to make ends meet rely on their extended family. On a recent afternoon Laticia Correa was taking her 3-year old granddaughter, Destiny, for a stroll while her husband looked after the other two infants at home.
Three generations live together in the Correas’ apartment. The younger adults work multiple shifts “to make it,” Correa said. “My two children and their wives work, so we take care of the kids,”she explained.
“It is not easy at all to take care of three kids,” she said. The children are 3, 1 and a half and 1. “They drive me crazy sometimes, especially the two younger ones.”
“Some societies recognize that society has a responsibility for the wellbeing of its children. Many societies do not leave it for the individual,” said Ruth Sidel, a professor of sociology at Hunter College and the author of “Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream,” in an interview.
But here in the United States, she continued, we do not see childcare “as part of our obligation” as a society. It is part of our “individualistic value system,” she said.
“Both the family and the work place suffer,” Sidel believes.“Families suffer because the children are not cared for, and the work place also suffers,” when parents miss work because a child needs looking after.
Some organizations have begun to regard childcare as a human rights issue, said Fields, who “got lucky” in finding a licensed care provider, Ailin Torado, for her infant the second time around.
“It’s especially problematic for single parents,” Fields added. “And most single parents are single mothers.”