Philly announces supervised sites for families who need child care this fall

School District of Philadelphia

School District of Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated: 2:35 p.m.

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Philadelphia will have 31 sites this fall where families can take young children who need supervision during the day time, the city announced Thursday.

City public schools will be all virtual through at least mid-November, creating a major child care crunch for working families.

The 31 “access centers” — located mostly at recreation centers and libraries — are supposed to be a safety valve for families whose caregivers need to work during the day and who cannot afford child care.

Officials hope these sites can alleviate some of the burden on those families and give students a safe, supervised space to complete their digital assignments.

They stressed that parents will have to register in advance for slots at the access centers, and cannot drop children off on an ad hoc basis.

“These programs will help low-income families with their internet access and child care needs during digital learning, and reduce the pandemic’s threat to our children’s education and their families’ stability,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement.

The access centers will be open for K-6 students from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. starting on Sept. 8. The 31 sites — which are open to students from public, charter and private schools — can serve up to 800 children, the city said in its announcement.

That’s a small fraction of the roughly 71,000 students in those grades in the School District of Philadelphia, not including the thousands more in charter and private schools. The city says it will add more sites on “a rolling basis,” according to a Thursday press release. Cynthia Figueroa, deputy mayor with the Office of Children and Families, said the city could have as many as 50 sites open by the end of September, depending on demand.

The city does not want the access centers to supplant childcare for families who can afford it or already received childcare subsidies.  Officials say they’ll prioritize families with caregivers working outside the home and who have no in-home internet.

“We’re really trying to target those who have absolutely no options available,” said Figueroa.

All families with school-aged students are eligible for free internet service through a recently announced city program, although the program is just getting off the ground.

City recreation and library workers will staff the access centers, with help from community-based organizations, the city said. When Philadelphia public schools closed in mid-March, officials tried to turn recreation centers into partial day drop-off sites. They quickly abandoned that plan after blowback from the city workers assigned to staff the locations.

Figueroa said the city had discussed its proposal with the union that represents recreation center staff, but would not say whether the union has signed onto the plan.

“I believe we will get to a positive outcome,” Figueroa said.

The president of the union did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The city said it will release registration information for families on Aug. 24.

Update: This story has been updated to clarify that families must register children for access centers before drop-off.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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