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Parents urge province to deliver all promised daycare reforms

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Monsebraaten, Laurie
Publication Date: 
30 Aug 2015



Harried parents are clamouring for Ontario to begin requiring school boards to provide before- and after-school care for students ages 6 to 12, where there is sufficient demand.

The initiative is already part of a package of child care reforms passed last December, much of which comes into force Monday. But with provincial consultations on that particular provision still months away, parents are wondering when Ontario will make good on its promise.

A government official says the province hopes before- and after-school care will be available for 6- to 12-year-olds by 2017.

Tiffany and Ryan Smye aren’t holding their breath. The East York parents have been struggling to get their 4-year-old daughter Olivia into a before- and after-school program — even though schools are already required to accommodate kindergarten students where numbers warrant.

“There are so many young families in this neighbourhood who need good quality licensed care and there just isn’t enough of it,” says Tiffany Smye. “Parents were literally camped out overnight last spring to get a spot.”

More than 230 students have registered for kindergarten at R.H. McGregor, at Mortimer and Coxwell Aves. — and almost half are looking for before- and after-school care.

The YMCA daycare in the school is opening a third kindergarten room next week and will be able to serve up to 78 children. But there are still 25 kids on the waiting list.

“The frustration is palpable,” Smye says.

Across Toronto, 18 new kindergarten daycare programs are opening this fall, with space for more than 460 children, city officials say. A further 55 programs for children aged 6 to 12 are opening to meet growing demand, they add.

In addition to changes to school-age care, the Childcare Modernization Act includes more restrictions for unlicensed home daycares and tougher fines for violators. The legislative reforms came in the wake of a series of four baby deaths in unlicensed home daycares over seven months in 2013-14.

To address the scramble for kindergarten care at R.H. McGregor, the city has been working with the principal, area daycares and the school board, says Elaine Baxter-Trahair, head of Toronto children’s services, which oversees child care in the city.

Children on the waiting list, including the Smyes’ daughter, have been offered before- and after-school care this year at the Centennial College Early Childhood Education Centre, across the street from the school. The daycare is opening a kindergarten room to accommodate 26 children. But that room is slated to serve preschoolers next fall, and Baxter-Trahair is not sure how kindergarten students in the area will be served next year.

“They may have to move to a lottery,” she says.

Jane Mercer, of the Toronto Coalition for Better Child Care, says a lottery is no way to treat parents who need daycare when they are at work or school.

Instead, the city should be working with daycares to help them turn the “lousy, split-shift jobs nobody wants” in before- and after-school programs into proper full-time work.

“Right now, the city funding just isn’t flexible enough,” she says.

The problem is only going to be compounded as the province mandates before- and after-school programs for older students, Mercer predicts.

“The province thinks they can tell the school boards what to do. The school boards think they can demand it of the child care programs,” she says. “But without proper support, child care programs can’t deliver.”

The Smyes, who say they speak for many young parents in their neighbourhood, just hope it gets sorted out by the time their son Patrick, 2, enters kindergarten and Olivia moves into Grade 1.

“Parents rely on good-quality programs,” she says. “But the infrastructure just isn’t there to support them.”

Before- and after-school care by the numbers:

  • 261,500 Ontario students in full-day kindergarten
  • 52,200 before- and after-school spots for Ontario kindergarten students (2014)
  • 52,000 Toronto kindergarten students
  • 10,000 before- and after-school spots for Toronto kindergarten students
  • 815,500 Ontario students in Grades 1 to 6 (2014)
  • 118,500 before- and after-school spots for Ontario students in Grades 1 to 6 (2014)
  • 152,000 Toronto students in Grades 1 to 6
  • 18,800 daycare spaces for students Grades 1 to 6 in Toronto

New rules for child care in Ontario:

  • Unlicensed home daycares may care for a maximum of five children under age 10, including their own kids.
  • Licensed home daycares may care for six under age 10, including their own kids.
  • Licensed and unlicensed daycares must count their own children under age 6.
  • Licensed and unlicensed daycares can care for a maximum of two children under 2, including their own kids. (Those who had been looking after more than two babies as of Dec. 4, 2014 may continue to care for those children until January 2016.)
  • Unlicensed home daycares must inform parents in writing that they are unlicensed.
  • All licensed child care centres and home daycares will receive and display provincial decals to identify them as provincially licensed operations. (Decals will be mailed in the fall.)
  • Child care centres in schools serving children age 4 and older will be considered part of the school and will no longer be required to follow separate zoning, building code and playground regulations.
  • By Aug. 31, 2017, both licensed and unlicensed home daycares must include children ages 10, 11, and 12 in the total count of kids in their care.

Government of Ontario

-reprinted from the Toronto Star