Modernizing Child Care in Ontario – Local 79 comments on Provincial discussion paper

“The future vision of child care for Toronto and Ontario can no longer be about saving the system, or sustaining the system.  It must be about how we can grow a high-quality, accessible, accountable, public/not-for-profit child care system,” said Tim Maguire in Local 79’s response to the Provincial Government’s discussion paper.

Child Care Modernization, c/o Early Learning Division, Ministry of Education

RE:     Modernizing Child Care in Ontario — Sharing Conversations,

             Strengthening Partnerships, Working Together

On behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79 representing over 20,000 members working at the City of Toronto, Bridgepoint Hospital and Toronto Community Housing Corporation, I would like to join the conversation and comment on the recent Ministry of Education discussion paper, Modernizing Child Care in Ontario.

Many of CUPE Local 79 members work in Toronto’s municipal child care sector and provide services that families all across the City need and want. The discussion paper deals with a short-term three year, action plan but what’s needed is a long term vision for child care in order to grow the system. We need to support families and provide the best start in life for our children.  Nothing could be more important. We must get the vision right.

The key areas for discussion have been outlined in the discussion paper and during the consultations. The goal is to stabilize child care throughout Ontario without sacrificing the quality of care along the way.

1.     Operating Funding Formula

The chronic underfunding of Toronto’s child care system has kept children and families in a year in- year out state of anxiety. As the system manager of one of the largest child care systems in North America, Children’s Services has done a remarkable job in making Toronto a leader in the child care sector.  But the cupboard is bare. A new funding formula must address the annual multi-million dollar budget pressures and index provincial funding transfers to inflation. Indexing alone will go a long, long way to stabilize child care here in the City. Stable, base funding is the key to serving the long wait lists for child care spaces and help give parents the support they need to work, retrain and continue their education.

Here in this large, ever-growing City there will always be a need for subsidized child care. The funding resources needed must be in place to ensure that children, families and communities have access to quality child care.

2.     Capital Funding Priorities

 Adequate transitional funding is desperately needed to help child care centres retrofit their environments to handle infants and toddlers. As Full Day Kindergarten rolls out in Toronto and across the province, the long-term planning for child care centres becomes more and more of an imperative with full implementation expected by 2014.

 3.     Quality Programs

 Parents in every city and town across Ontario have said that their main concern in selecting a child care centre is quality. Simply having a child care license only means that the centre has met a minimum standard of care, it doesn’t guarantee quality. The City of Toronto has become a renowned leader in child care because of the quality of its child care services. The City’s Operating Criteria sets the gold standard in the child care sector. That’s quite an accomplishment after years of underfunding by the province. 

The City’s directly-operated centres give parents with special needs children a quality and professional option for their care. The Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act is now the law in Ontario and this enhances the obligations of child care centres to meet the needs of children with special needs. In order to continue to meet the needs of special needs children, funding is required to provide for adequate staffing levels.

Base stable funding must be put in place to allow the City of Toronto to continue to raise the bar for quality child care – parents and children deserve nothing less.

4.    Modernizing Legislative and Regulatory Framework

CUPE Local 79 would like specifics of what legislative and regulatory changes are planned for the Day Nurseries Act (DNA). Many questions were raised at the consultations about changing ratios, age group changes, nutrition and the complexities of aligning child care with full day kindergarten. The word often being used is ‘flexibility’. Flexibility is not a bad thing, but if it means higher ratios of children in the care of Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) it would have a direct and detrimental effect on quality.

Any discussion on modernizing child care in Ontario must be focused on raising the bar on quality indicators such as group size, child-staff ratios, ECE requirements, and play-based learning environments. The provincial government should not expand or promote informal home-based child care. This is not the way to grow and develop a quality child care system.

 There is very little information provided in the discussion paper about proposed legislative/licensing changes for six to 12 year-olds, and no details provided about moving this age group to a recreation program model. The highest quality of child care delivered by ECEs must continue to be provided for this age group.

 5.   Support for Accountability and Capacity-Building

 The discussion paper refers to risk-based licensing and a monitoring system approach that aligns with the provincial government’s Open for Business initiative. CUPE Local 79 is concerned that the province is recommending opening up the ‘market’ to increasing privatization and competition that will come from Big Box child care corporations. No jurisdiction in which child care is treated as a private business has a track record of equitable access or high quality. 

 Since adequate funding is not being put into the child care system, the danger of for-profit child care corporations taking over is very real. Then only those who can afford it will have access to child care. Quality benchmarks in child care are achieved through public management, public funding and public/not-for-profit delivery.

 The future vision of child care for Toronto and Ontario can no longer be about saving the system, or sustaining the system. It must be about how we can grow a high-quality, accessible, accountable, public/not-for-profit child care system.

 

Yours truly,

 

Tim Maguire, President

 

   cc:   Laurel Broten, Minister of Education

            Elaine Baxter-Trahair, General Manager, Children’s Services, City of Toronto