MERIDEN — Parents walked into the Women and Families Center Thursday afternoon to pick up kids and left with a letter informing them the daycare program had been defunded by the city and would end later this summer.
“It’s not fair at all,” said mom Jailene Mercado. “There’s families that can’t afford a lot. Where are we going to go?”
There are 62 children enrolled in the School Readiness Program, which is funded by a $500,000 state Office of Early Childhood grant, said Health Department Director Lea Crown. The program offers daycare programming to prepare kids for kindergarten with fees at a sliding scale based on income. The decision to cut funding was made by the School Readiness Council.
“Our main concerns were the high turnover in the position of their director of childcare and low quality learning experiences happening in classrooms,” said Jennifer Baglin, the city’s school readiness coordinator.
The makeup of the school readiness council was not listed on the city website. The council met Wednesday and notified the Women and Families Center, located at 169 Colony St., the funding had been cut Thursday morning.
Child Care Director Karen Yorker’s eyes were red and watery as she broke the news to parents picking up children. Yorker, and 10 teachers at the facility, have effectively been laid off by the decision.
“It’s extremely upsetting. I have dedicated my life to taking care of children and to have to tell their parents tonight that they are losing one of their safe places, it’s heartbreaking,” Yorker said.
City officials had informed Yorker, who has served as childcare director since October, of their concerns. Yorker said she submitted a proposal to improve programming last week, which included monthly assessments, greater communication and having a teacher focus on math and literacy instruction.
Yorker said she was not given a reason why the city rejected her proposal.
Unlike other daycare programs, which can cost hundreds of dollars a week, the Women and Families Center program cost between $8 and $95 a week based on income.
“We are able to reach children that can’t necessarily afford the higher priced daycares and get them ready for kindergarten,” Yorker said. “A lot of my families walk here ... others were close to their work.”
“When you are shutting down a center, a transition like that affects the children,” Yorker said.
Parents picking up children were given a letter from Yorker stating the school readiness council had voted to cut funding and the program will end Aug. 24. The Women and Families Center will be working with Baglin to ease the transition for families, Yorker’s wrote, noting “the children remain our top priority.”
“We are evaluating our options and will continue to keep you informed,” Yorker wrote in the letter. “Thank you for being a part of the WFC and for entrusting us to care for your children.”
Mercado credits the program for helping improve her 3-year-old son Deylin’s communication skills.
”He was never talking and now he’s talking,” Mercado said. “They are doing a good job with the kids. My kid is only here one year and he learned a lot. He loves it here.”
Nicole Fernandez is a working mother whose son, Jayden, loves coming to the daycare.
”This is a great help for the parents that work. This is a family for us,” Fernandez said. “Now it’s going to be hard.”