Monday, February 9, 2009

Foster care and unaffordable child care?

Working mom's heartbreak: Home-alone son’s is back from foster care, but she needs help
Block, Dorian. NY Daily News, Feb. 6, 2009.

Lillian Lucas-Dixon has her 7-year-old son Juan back in her arms again.

But the reunion may be short-lived.

Juan - the youngest of her 10 children, most of whom are grown - was put into foster care because she left him home alone while she worked.

She is thrilled he's back, but still does not have anyone to watch him while she works at night as a token booth clerk.

"I started crying. I couldn't believe he was finally coming home. Seven weeks and 20 hours. That's a long time," said Lucas-Dixon, 52.

Juan was taken away by the Administration for Children's Services Dec. 14, after he told a school guidance counselor that he was left home alone.

ACS made a surprise visit to Lucas-Dixon's Co-op City apartment during what she said was an hour-long gap between her leaving for work and her daughter arriving to watch Juan.

Lucas-Dixon had a tearful reunion with Juan on Monday, bringing him home to a Christmas tree, stockings and presents that were still waiting for him.

He happily tore the wrapping off gifts that included several chess and checkers sets, a pair of King Kong gloves and a red bicycle.

Still, Lucas-Dixon continues to worry; she fears he will be taken away again if she can not arrange continuous child care.

ACS spokeswoman Sheila Stainback said she could not comment on specific cases, but that if a working parent cannot find child care, the agency works to "find alternative resources and help that parent make a plan to ensure the child's safety while the parent works."

ACS gave her a list of child-care providers, Lucas-Dixon said, but they were unaffordable, located in Manhattan or did not offer service that would cover her night and weekend shifts.

She makes too much money to qualify for subsidized child care.

Lucas-Dixon's dilemma is one thousands of the city's single parents and two-parent working families face, with high child care costs in a tough economy, said Mary Pulido, executive director of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She pointed out the dangers of leaving a child home alone, including poisoning or fire inside, and strangers outside.

"It's really understandable that the pressures right now, especially with a tight economy, may prompt some parents, even responsible parents, to leave a child under 12 alone," she said.

"But it can't take the place of placing a child at risk. Single parents especially need to make more of an effort to turn over every single stone to find alternatives."

But Lucas-Dixon says she is running out of stones to turn over. She is considering sending Juan to California again to live with his 29-year-old sister and her family, but said it breaks her heart to be separated from him.

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