The sudden closure of two Windsor Terrace day-care centers has left about 30 families in the lurch and out of pocket, and parents claim the city is making things even harder.
The dedicated staffers at Ilene’s Sunflower are offering to continue caring for the tots until everyone can find a new situation — even while they claim the center hasn’t paid them in weeks — but say the city is threatening to fine them if they’re caught changing diapers and playing peek-a-boo in the now-unlicensed kiddie centers.
“Instead of working with us to provide a smooth transition, the city is basically saying, ‘you’re on your own,’ ” said Kensington resident Scott MacMillan, whose 1-year-old daughter Isabella attended the day-care.
Ilene’s Sunflower owner Ilene Lieberman recently died, and her daughter informed staff on Jan. 20 that the business — which looked after infants aged 2 and younger at locations on Prospect Avenue between Reeve Place and Greenwood Avenue and Greenwood Avenue between E. Third and E. Fourth streets — was closing immediately, according to the aggrieved moms and dads.
The sudden news left the families scrambling for babysitters or new day-care centers, which often have months-long waiting lists, MacMillan said.
Sunflower’s workers still have access to both locations and haven’t heard from Lieberman’s family since, so they’ve continued providing their services in the days since — with payment in cash — and are now trying to form a worker-owned cooperative to stay in business.
But an officer from the city’s Department of Health hand-delivered a notice on Monday stating any caregiver on the premises as of Jan. 30 will be fined $500 for operating without a license, the parents say — and that just isn’t enough time, according to MacMillan.
“It’s outrageous to me that the DOH would shut us down so abruptly without trying to work with the parents or caretakers,” he said. “We need more time from the DOH and some flexibility to make that happen.”
An agency spokeswoman said officials simply can’t let the day-care stay open without a license — and a license is voided when its holder dies — although it can fast-track a new license if someone applies, and can also help refer the families to other centers.
Meanwhile, the workers claim they haven’t been paid for more than three weeks and are collectively owed $14,000 in wages.
The parents claim they also stand to lose substantial deposits totaling $94,000, including one family who they say put down $5,000 last week to cover childcare through May.
“They’ve made no indication we’re getting out money back,” said Emily Giles, whose 1-year-old son attended Sunflower.
Lieberman didn’t have a good history of paying her employees, who were frequently paid late and often dipped into their own pockets to purchase groceries for the kids, according to Kensington mom and Sunflower customer Sarah Allen.
In 2015, the federal Department of Labor filed a suit against Lieberman after officials ordered her to compensate some 35 employees for $20,838 in unpaid overtime, but she instead allegedly threatened them and demanded kickbacks for any recovered wages they received.
The two parties settled the case, with Lieberman agreeing to reimburse the missing pay, according to court documents.
The parents have put together an online fund-raiser seeking donations to compensate workers at the day-care for lost wages.