According to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), the Roosevelt Island Youth Program has been operating an unauthorized afterschool childcare program out of the Island’s Youth Center at 506 Main Street.
Craig Smith, assistant director for public information at the agency, stated in an email that agency inspectors had observed the program operating without registration on three separate occasions and had informed the group to “immediately cease and desist operations” as of October 3.
On Thursday, Charlie Defino, executive director for the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP), acknowledged that his group did not yet have the appropriate license (School-age Child Care, known as a SACC license) but he said they were in the process of “transferring” it from their previous location at PS/IS 217 to the Youth Center, and that their application is "pending." He declined to comment on whether the afterschool program had been served with a cease and desist order by OSFS and instead talked about new programming being offered by RIYP.
But in a letter he says was sent on Sunday, RIYP informed parents that it was not a licensed afterschool program and that it would have to eliminate all formal programming indefinitely until the licensing issue was resolved. In the meantime, the group said, kids could play games, watch movies, and play on the computers.
However, at least one parent told The WIRE they had not received any notice from RIYP about the licensing problem.
[Editor's note, you can find an updated and expanded version of this article here.]
The Youth Center at 506 Main Street
According to state regulations, childcare centers and afterschool programs are required to be inspected by the Department of Health before operation. Licenses are location-specific and cannot be transferred. The licensing process ensures that facilities and staffing levels meet appropriate standards. When an existing program changes location, it is required to submit a new application for registration.
According to OCFS, as of Friday, October 6, RIYP had not yet submitted an application for the license.
For years, RIYP ran a Beacon afterschool program out of the Island’s public school through a contract with the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) that Defino fought for and brought to the Island. That contract expired in August and was taken over by The Child Center of NY.
In response, RIYP then moved its afterschool program down the street to the Youth Center at 506 Main Street, which it operates through a contract and funding from the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC).
For the past month, the group has been picking up students from PS/IS 217 and walking them to the Youth Center for the afterschool program, which runs until 6 p.m. According to their program schedule, students participate in music classes, sports, and computer coding.
RIOC President Susan Rosenthal says the Corporation was not aware of the issue at the Youth Center until Thursday afternoon.
"RIOC will make sure that the operations at the Youth Center comply with the law," she wrote in an email.
According to RIOC General Counsel Jacqueline Flug, the program is currently allowed to continue operating as a "drop-in program." Practically speaking, under its current license, RIYP cannot offer a variety of activities to children on a daily basis, nor can they offer activities from different categories sequentially – six weeks of art followed by six weeks of recreation followed by six weeks of academic instruction, for example. They also cannot offer a program that provides activities from different categories rotationally where children receive art instruction Mondays and Wednesdays, engage in recreational activity on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Flug says she was told by Defino that RIYP has been in compliance with these rules since the cease and desist order, which came down on October 3. "The change in classification should not cause parents to fear that its an unsafe place for children."
She said RIOC had not required proof of a SACC license before the program began. "RIOC has never asked for licenses as RIOC did not provide oversight until recently. The current agreement with RIYP and RIOC requires compliance with all state, federal laws."
Regarding a timeline for a resumption of the RIYP afterschool program, Flug said, "It's a lengthy application, and it will take time for review and approval."
The licensing problem comes as RIYP is hoping to renew its contract with RIOC to operate the Youth Center. RIOC is accepting applications for a new operator contract until October 20.
However, according to the guidelines for application, the future Youth Center operator will also not offer an official afterschool program; it will instead be expected to provide drop-in programming. This means that even if RIYP gets a SACC license and wins the Youth Center operator grant, they would not be able to run an afterschool program like the one it has been promoting.
The Child Center of NY, the current Beacon provider located at PS/IS 217, is also waiting for their SACC license. They expect it within the next two weeks.