In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration (Article 3.1, Convention on the Rights of the Child).
On January 10, parents at a Chicago daycare center located in a Social Security Administration building learned they had until April to find new accommodations for their children. On February 1, parents learned that the provider of the daycare services was closing at least two classrooms, containing over 30 children, within a week. Wait lists for childcare in Chicago extend to 6 months or longer.
The two bodies making the decisions about Windy City Kids child care center include the federal Social Security Administration and their contractors, Easter Seals, who runs the Windy City Kids center. In full disclosure, my niece and nephew attend this school, and I’ve learned about these issues through my sister.
My sister, her husband, and the nearly 100 parents of other children at Windy City Kids child care have not taken this news sitting down. They have mobilized politically and electronically, sharing their story with local Chicago media and politicians. They have spent hours writing letters and speaking with elected officials.
Several parents echo the sentiment that the decisions surrounding the closure of the center seem to have been made with no consideration for the children who spend their weekdays there, playing, building and maintaining friendships, and learning.
In a 1998 Memorandum, then-President Bill Clinton called for higher standards at federal day cares, including a requirement for accreditation of all contracted day care centers and background checks for workers therein.
In an early story that aired on ABC, Doug Nguyen, Chicago spokesman for the Social Security Administration made a statement that they, “reviewed all aspects of the operation of the child care center and made a business decision to close it effective April 8, 2013. Given SSA’s tight budget situation, we continue to make choices.”
In follow-up communication with parents the SSA elaborated on problems with the contractor not following the requirements laid out by Clinton in 1998. When Easter Seals continued to fail to fully comply with background checks and accreditation requirements, among others, the SSA opted to close the center, rather than replace the contractors.
The subsequent decision to “collapse” classrooms in the second week of February came by letter from Easter Seals, informing parents that the daycare provider will continue removing or combining classes as teachers take other positions. So classes may be closed at any time before April 8, as the organization dismantles this branch of their service.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child codifies international standards in decisions that affect children. “The best interests of the children shall be a primary consideration,” states the convention, which the United States signed onto. Congress has not ratified the convention, so the United Nations cannot hold us accountable.
But my sister and the other parents at Windy City Kids have taken it upon themselves to hold the Social Security Administration and Easter Seals accountable for those decisions, which have a direct impact on their children. And still many of their questions and requests remain unanswered.
The parents are still posting testimonials and circulating a petition to save their school. Some of the kids have grown up in the program from infancy, and others may have to leave before spending a full year in the program.
This sudden transition will be no doubt be difficult for the children and parents involved. The parents will soldier forward pursuing every avenue to save the program, because their right to reliable childcare and their children’s right to due consideration are certainly worth fighting for.