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TOWNS FILL A DAY-CARE VOID DURING HOLIDAYS

It's the week after Christmas, and the children are home from school, but the parents are at work.

Many families with this problem impose on a benevolent relative, friend or neighbor, or drop the kids off at the local YWCA or Boys and Girls Club.

Now, suburban towns such Amherst and Cheektowaga are running their own child care programs during winter break -- and the competition isn't complaining.

Town officials said they decided to begin offering child care a few years ago after parental surveys pointed to the need.

"The demand for full-day programs that are educational, constructive and fun goes beyond what the private agencies can accommodate," said Joseph E. Bachovchin, executive director of the Amherst Youth Board.

"The need exceeds the availability for school-age children in Erie County," agreed Tracey Banks, director of children and youth services for the YWCA of Western New York.

Erie County has an estimated 600 private children's day-care centers, mostly for preschoolers. But few programs exist to take school-age children for a few days or a week during school breaks, said Valerie Cooley, executive director of the Child Care Coalition of the Niagara Frontier Inc.

It was with that in mind that Cheektowaga started its program.

"We didn't have a 'Y' or a Boys and Girls Club, but the people were telling us they desperately needed day care for short periods of time," said Kenneth J. Kopacz, executive director of Cheektowaga's Department of Youth and Recreational Services.

Cheektowaga accommodates about two dozen youngsters, ages 4 to 12, in the Alexander Community Center during the week after Christmas. The package includes sports, arts and crafts, games, music, snack-making and a field trip. The children bring their own bagged lunch and beverage.

Cheektowaga charges $20 per day
per child for its program, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A longer day costs an extra $2 to $2.50.

Amherst's 55-child "winter recess camp" at the Harlem Road Community Center -- which filled up a month ago -- charges on a sliding scale, depending on income. A single parent earning $19,000 to $24,000 a year, for example, pays $9 to $11 a day; someone whose household income tops $70,000 pays $24.

The Amherst program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with an earlier drop-off or later pickup costing an extra $1.

Representatives of various agencies involved with child care don't see the town programs as competition.

"There's more than enough (demand) to go around," said Susan Clements of the YWCA, which provides alternate care programs for up to 200 children at three centers in Buffalo and one in Amherst. The charge is $25 a day, with a 10 percent discount for siblings.

The YMCA of Greater Buffalo has "holiday vacation clubs" for school-age children up to 12 years old at seven locations, including three in the city and others in Kenmore, Lancaster, Snyder and Orchard Park.

YMCA branch communications coordinator Heidi Nadel said the seven branches should see 300 to 400 youngsters between Christmas and New Year's. Fees vary from branch to branch but generally range from $10 to $15 per day per child for members and slightly more for nonmembers, Nadel said.

The Jewish Community Center of Buffalo runs child care centers on North Forest Road in Amherst and Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. "Parents look to us whenever there's a school day off and they have to work," said program director Susan A. Hyman. The charge for one of the most comprehensive day care programs in the area is $33 a day, and about 60 children will take part during the upcoming school recess, she said.

However, state licenses for the various child care agencies and programs cover children only through age 12.

Providing supervised holiday activities for many teens generally falls to the Boys and Girls Clubs scattered throughout the city, suburbs and rural communities. However, these clubs are "drop-in" facilities rather than child care agencies, Cooley noted.

The Boys and Girls Clubs offer the least expensive way for children as young as 6 as well as older teens to find something to do in a supervised setting -- $6 per child per year, and that includes snacks and some meals.

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