The beleaguered Administration for Children’s Services suffered another blow on Friday with the departure of Harvey Newman, Deputy Commissioner for Child Care and Head Start.

Hired in April 2002, the former teacher and nonprofit executive was seemingly popular with staff, providers and advocates. So why the hasty farewell?

Newman declined to comment on his motives for leaving. An ACS spokesperson said he “left for personal reasons” and did not file a formal resignation letter. But his move clearly comes at a difficult time for the agency.

“These are problems that go back years,” said Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses of New York, a federation of 36 community centers that offer child care and other social services. Yet she also acknowledged that some of those problems have been getting worse.

A scathing April 2003 report by the city comptroller’s office discovered that 46,000 working families were waiting for child care assistance, while 2,000 slots sat unused, at a cost of $17 million per year. A subsequent Daily News exposé found even higher numbers-- an estimated 3,714 vacancies wasting $32 million--and a bureaucracy nearly impossible for working parents to navigate.

If that weren’t headache enough, Newman also inherited a thorny labor dispute. The city’s child care providers and center directors are the only municipal employees without a current contract, say union leaders, after a failed bid three years ago to gain parity with Department of Education employees.

“Day care and head start is early childhood education,” said Raglan George, Jr., executive director of District Council 1707, AFSCME, which represents approximately 7,000 providers of city-funded day care. Newman seemed sympathetic, he said, but Bloomberg “just doesn’t get it.” The mayor’s office could not comment by press time.

Other advocates take issue with the administration’s recent decision to transfer contracts for school-age child care from ACS to the newly formed Department of Youth and Community Development and to move child care eligibility screening from ACS to the Human Resources Administration, in order to improve efficiency and cut costs [see “Child Care Conundrum,” 9/22/03].

The city has begun implementing the changes despite cries of protest from some service providers, who fear the shift could harm their programs. “We do not understand why the city would move forward, prior to the completion of the planning process,” said Nancy Kolben, executive director of Child Care, Inc., a resource and referral agency, at a December City Council hearing.

With all the pressure on ACS, one wonders who will step up to take Newman’s place. “We are hoping to have someone like Harvey who’s accessible, who understands what nonprofits deal with,” said Wackstein, as long as that person can also “take a lot of heat.”