Catholic Charities, a social service agency of the Archdiocese of Chicago, will shut down their Head Start programs in the city effective November 26.
Parents from the Southwest Side who relied on Catholic Charities for affordable day care received letters at the end of October with the news that “with heartfelt sorrow,” the administration and advisory board decided to close the remaining child development centers in Chicago: St. Joseph in Back of the Yards, Our Lady of Tepeyac in Little Village, and its Chicago Lawn center.
“Upon analysis of projected, current, and historical expenses and revenue, Catholic Charities has and will continue to have a significant deficit that the agency can no longer afford to absorb and still continue with the rest of the services it offers,” said Laura E. Ríos, the vice president of child, youth and family services.
The day care centers provided education for low-income children three to five years old focusing on “language, physical, social-emotional and cognitive development” where parent involvement was a major component of learning, according to its website.
Liliana Celso, the mother of a three-year-old enrolled at St. Joseph, said parents should have been given more advance notice. “We are having a really hard time finding placement for our children. Other child care is not available in the area that is affordable to the community, and most schools are at capacity right now,” she said.
Catholic Charities reported that the majority of its $6.5 million for child development programs came from local and state government in 2018. For fiscal year 2019, the nonprofit had a projected budget of $6,422,000, according to its annual reports.
“Unfortunately, we are not immune to the funding challenges facing all human service providers in Illinois…we are working with the City of Chicago as our funder and other providers to facilitate the transition for impacted families,” director of communications Brigid Murphy said in a statement.
Chicago began moving toward universal preschool under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and modified its early childhood funding formula. (This summer, Emanuel’s chief of early learning stepped down.) Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s budget included $120 million for pre-K and set the goal of universal pre-K for all four-year-olds by 2021.
The Department of Family and Support Services granted funding to Catholic Charities through the end of November 2019, but the organization was not among the twenty-five child care providers selected for a one-time extension, according to the city website.
“The roll out of Universal pre-K (UPK4) in communities across the city and new state policies that allow children to enroll in kindergarten earlier will shape a new early childhood ecosystem that community-based programs and public schools must respond to,” according to DFSS.
In recent years, Catholic Charities closed three separate child development centers and other service facilities. Grace Mission in Gage Park and St. Aloysius in Wicker Park announced their closure in 2016 due to “uncertainty around government funding.” Our Lady of Lourdes in North Lawndale also closed in 2016 due to low enrollment “which then resulted in budget issues,” according to Murphy.
That year, the CEO of Catholic Charities, Monsignor Michael Boland—who stepped down this summer after thirty years leading the nonprofit—said the budget impasse under Republican former Governor Bruce Rauner created a crisis in which the state owed them millions of dollars in services rendered.
The closure of the Head Start programs “aren’t a direct result of the budget impasse,” Murphy said. “But it’s safe to say most nonprofits are still recovering financially from that unfortunate episode, in addition to chronic underfunding for years before and after.”
On Wednesday, parents and children protested in front of St. Joseph. Sandy Barrera, a delegate in the parent committee, is circulating an online petition to keep St. Joseph open.
Celso estimates that, at St. Joseph alone, 210 children will be displaced, and thirty-one staff members will lose their jobs.
“Some of the staff here at the center take the responsibility of picking up our students from surrounding schools, which include Hedges, Chavez, Hamline, Lara, and Seward Elementary,” the petition reads. “We need your help to keep St. Joseph open and available to the community.”
Clementina Patiño, who has put three of her children through the Little Village Head Start and is involved in the parent committee, said parents are “dismayed” by the closures because they don’t have alternatives for child care.
Parent leaders will be on-site throughout the week collecting signatures to keep the center open. Our Lady of Tepeyac center stands to lose 174 children and twenty-nine teachers and staff, according to their online petition.
With the closing of the centers, immigrant families will lose ESL and GED classes and other free programming.
Ten years ago, clergy and immigrant advocates questioned whether Catholic Charities was serving the Latinx community proportionate to their population and church membership. WBEZ found that Latinx residents were less than twenty percent of the agency’s clients despite census numbers indicating they made up twenty-eight percent of Cook and Lake county residents living in poverty.
The three facilities scheduled to close this month collectively served 502 children and 460 families in areas of the city that are majority Latinx. Catholic Charities continues to run two suburban child development centers in Berwyn and Summit.
Illinois is among the fifteen least affordable states for day care in the country, outpacing what families spend in rent, according to a study by nonprofit Child Care Aware of America.
Last year Chicago’s Catholic Charities chapter celebrated its hundredth anniversary.
Jacqueline Serrato is an independent journalist born and raised in the Little Village neighborhood. Follow her on Twitter at @HechaEnChicago. She recently wrote for the Weekly about the histories of the Little Village and South Chicago Mexican parades and Fred Hampton’s Rainbow Coalition.