EXCLUSIVE: Many Queens day care centers operating illegally

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A little known law may be keeping some Queens day care centers from operating legally, The Courier has learned.

Permits from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), a certificate of occupancy from the Department of Buildings and a fire inspection pass are needed for city child care providers who fall under certain categories. These include those who look after three or more kids unrelated to them either in a private home or institution for more than three hours a day, on a regular basis.

But a less familiar rule requires these centers also give written notification to local precincts and fire departments within five days of receiving certifications, the agencies said.

“The day care centers are kind of off our radar. For safety reasons, we’d like to know where they are,” said Special Operations Lieutenant Daniel Heffernan of the 111th Precinct.

According to Heffernan, about 26 centers in the Bayside-based precinct are legally licensed with the city. The precinct’s list is still being updated, but only eight were registered with police as of press time.

“We know there are others out there who have not reported to us,” Heffernan said.

Gary Poggiali, the precinct’s community affairs officer, said he suspects businesses that are providing under-the-radar services in their private homes are trying to make an extra buck in a bad economy.

“There are people who don’t realize they have to contact us,” he said. “They’ll think, ‘I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m taking care of two kids. Why don’t I take care of four and make money?’ But we have to know what’s going on in our community.”

The Courier reached out to several Craigslist ads that were offering day care services for multiple children in private Queens homes. A woman running an at-home center in East Elmhurst said she was “working on” obtaining a permit but was still watching many children without it at the time of the call.

She said the certification was “coming any day now” and added she would spike up prices when it arrived.

According to a DOHMH spokesperson, the department inspects centers it receives complaints about within 24 hours and shuts down those found to be running improperly. But home-based providers are regulated by the state, not the city.

There are 472 permitted child care centers in the borough, the spokesperson said. It was unclear how many were also registered with the NYPD and FDNY.

The process to do so is simple, police said. It involves filling out a short form and providing a copy of the city permit at a local precinct.

Heffernan said enforcement became stricter after a California daycare shooting in 1999 killed one person and injured five others, including three kids.

A two-month old baby girl was also reportedly found dead in an alleged illegal day care in Elmhurst in November 2012.

“This is a very big safety issue,” Heffernan said. “If you’re a parent, would you want to put your kids in a place that’s unlicensed? I wouldn’t.”



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