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Day care centers and parents feel effects of sequestration, federal budget woes

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Ripple effects of federal budget cuts and the federal government without a budget for the 2013 fiscal year have trickled down to community day-care centers.

Because furloughs for Fort Drum’s Child and Youth Services staff members were announced this week, several of the 150 day care centers registered with the state Office of Children and Family Services in Jefferson County have received inquiries about openings to make up for the reduced day care availability on post.

“I’ve had a lot more phone calls,” said Kristie J. Whiteley, owner of Halo’s Daycare, Evans Mills. “I’m maxed out, and I was before this.”

Ms. Whiteley’s facility is a group family day care, and she can accommodate 16 children.

Even before the post announced Monday that 900 soldier and civilian families would be affected by the furloughs, Heather L. Disco, owner of Disco’s Ducklings DayCare, Evans Mills, said she received a lot of inquiries about availability of infant care. She too is maxed out, with capacity for eight children.

Day care centers farther from post also have all available slots filled, including a group family day care center in Watertown run by Diane B. Leonard.

“The demand for day care is huge in Watertown,” she said. “I get a lot of calls.”

Felicia D. Butler, a military spouse living in Watertown, is one parent who was surprised by some of the federal cuts.

“The first day I realized it occurred was the first day of spring semester, and my husband was at Joint Readiness Training Center,” she said. “My child didn’t go to school because it was closed, so I went to make an hourly reservation (on post), but found they were shut down. It was because of the cuts.”

That was in late January. Since then, Mrs. Butler has realized even more federal cuts will affect her three children, ages 5, 4 and 2. As she dropped her middle child off at the Head Start program at the Community Action Planning Council of Jefferson County, 518 Davidson St., she became aware of potential upcoming changes to Head Start, because of sequestration.

“I’ve been so upset about this,” she said. “It has a detrimental effect to everyone.”

CAPC officials said last week that they know cuts are coming, but no specific information has been provided as to how the local Head Start program will be affected. A 5 percent cut nationwide means 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start, according to the national program’s website.

Mrs. Butler is encouraging other Head Start parents and community members to sign an online petition, at www.supportheadstart.org, to help restore funding.

“I’ve felt with funding cuts on post that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said. “It’s too much. (Head Start) is truly what it is — a head start on kindergarten. It sets the stage for what kids can expect. It’s not day care. It’s not free play. It’s learning.”

Mrs. Butler, who has been with her family in the north country since October 2011, said she will pay close attention to cuts as more information becomes available.

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