For the last three years, 5-year-old Aubrey Branner has spent her days at Folts Homes Child Care Center, spending time not only with her peers, but also with the residents at the senior retirement community.
“If you talk to anybody over there, the interaction between the resident and the child, that’s what they look forward to and it makes their day,” said Kristen Branner, Aubrey’s mother and an Ilion resident.
So when Branner told her daughter the day care center in Herkimer was closing, Aubrey reacted pragmatically. “But aren’t the grandmas and grandpas going to miss us,” she asked.
A July 19 letter obtained by GateHouse Media was sent out to the parents involved in the program informing them the day care center would close on Aug. 31 due to “economic conditions affecting New York state.” After evaluating all departments in the facility, the board of directors decided the “child care program does not generate enough revenue to support itself, and Folts Homes can no longer afford to subsidize the loss,” according to the letter.
Multiple calls to Folts Homes’ officials were not returned.
Folts Homes primarily is a senior retirement community, according to its website, but offers an array of services including therapeutic recreation and short-term stay. For 12 years, the Folts Homes Child Care Center offered pre-K child care, an after-school program and a school-aged summer program.
Lorraine Kinney-Kitchen, director of the Child Care Council of Cornell Cooperative Extension, said issues with subsidy money being tight affects centers, which is why maintaining full enrollment is important. “When you have an open slot, you want to fill it as quickly as possible because that’s your bread and butter,” she said.
While Branner said she was able to find alternative care in East Herkimer fairly quickly, Kinney-Kitchen said officials are having difficulty finding child care providers for some of the about 41 families that are affected by the closure.
“That was the very last full-year child care center in Herkimer County,” she said. “The other center is Herkimer County Community College, but they’re only open in the school year.”
Kinney-Kitchen said there are seven Head Start programs that are licensed, center-based facilities, but they’re for low-income families, unlike the programs at HCCC and Folts Homes.
The need for more slots is nothing new for the child care council, which provides assistance to parents looking for child care, she said. “It’s very scary for parents because they need their jobs and they need child care in order to remain employed,” she said.
Finding alternatives is a tedious process, Kinney-Kitchen said.
Equating it to selecting the right job candidate, she said the council instructs parents on questions to ask providers. “Certainly you can find child care within a month if you’re willing to make calls, set up interviews and visit,” she said.
Page 2 of 2 - Branner and Herkimer resident Emily Clanton said the announcement of the closure could have been handled differently.
Clanton said her 5-year-old daughter Rory has been going to the day care at Folts Homes for about two years, and when she learned of the closing it was a “rude awakening.”
“I was on vacation, and I received a letter from the administrator,” she said. “I was immediately shocked and upset, and I didn’t think it was fair or right for the day care to shut down.”
Branner agreed. “I think it was very impersonal, especially since faithfully we’ve been paying for (Aubrey) to go there,” she said. “I think they could’ve given us the courtesy of a phone call.”
In the end though, the parents are most disheartened by the fact that they’re losing the staff.
“I’ll seriously miss the employees because they’re so great,” Clanton said. “They have taught (my daughter) a lot.”