8/8/2017 7:10:00 PM Portage YMCA closing child care center after child left alone on playground in 2016
Heather Augustyn, Times of Northwest Indiana Correspondent
PORTAGE — The Portage Township YMCA is ending both toddler and full-time child care programs, effective Friday, after a child was left unattended on the playground last summer.
Portage Township YMCA CEO Amber Alexander said in a prepared statement that results of a community survey determined that “child care was not identified as a top community need, and market analysis shows that Portage is saturated with child care services.”
However, Andrea Starling, vice president of the Portage Township YMCA board of directors, said that in addition to this survey, being unable to recover from last summer’s incident and the resulting state-imposed probation were also factors.
“Ever since the incident back in July of 2016 where a child was left on the playground, we were placed on probation with the state, and during that time we made improvements to the physical space, training methods, policies, procedures and protocols. Despite all of these positive changes we were unable to rebound from the financial ramifications of that,” Starling said.
“We have not exceeded 60 percent capacity in our child care in the last year due to that incident, so it’s a financial matter at that point,” she said, noting about 30 families will be affected by the closure, though at one time the number was greater.
“We were at full capacity before the incident. The child care program has always been a very good money maker for us. It was a very profitable center, but when this happened, with the state probation, everybody that has state aid for child care is turned away from our center because of the probation. So the families that really need it are the ones we had to turn away,” Starling said.
The Portage Township YMCA also discontinued its aquatics program last winter, and Starling said the YMCA is in the process of redirecting resources on areas of service identified in their survey to the community, such as drug prevention education and enrichment classes for reading and writing.
“As part of the community assessment, family activities became a focus. We’re also trying to hone in on the senior community that addresses our very big population of seniors. We have a facility that people use for fellowship and gathering for seniors, and it’s a great community place, so that’s what we want to be. These are two areas of focus to make our business model profitable,” Starling said.
Profitability is crucial for the Portage Township YMCA since it is still trying to recover from a $5.5 million building expansion in 2008. In 2015, the YMCA was still $4.4 million in debt after what Starling said was a combination of factors that affected the bottom line, but she is hopeful for the future.
“We are still trying to recover from the building expansion that happened a couple of years ago, and we are still trying to take care of our outstanding debt. But our board is really strong right now, and we are very energetic about it. We have business leaders in the community on our board, some real go-getters, so we are going through restructuring and a management turnaround plan to put things back in focus now that we’ve eliminated our child care services and are redirecting our focus,” she said.
Though she acknowledges elimination of child care services will benefit the Portage Township YMCA’s bottom line, she recognizes the impact on the affected families.
“It was just a logical decision, but not our favorite decision,” she said.