BALL DROP: Ontario Childcare sector given 3 days notice to re-open with zero extra funding - Safe?

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Agatha Farmer

The province in a rush to open up the Covid-19 sucked dry economy in Ontario made the announcement on Tuesday that in order to get parents back to work daycare centres in the province have been given the green light to re-open on June 12.

Not so fast says Carolyn Ferns, public policy and government relations coordinator, with the

Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care. Like many parents she is trying to balance working from home and taking care of her toddler and she understands that parents are concerned about child care issues. She is, however, "worried and disappointed" by what the Ontario government announced on Tuesday.

Ferns says her organization released a report three weeks ago providing the government with 27 recommendations for how to re-open Ontario's daycares safely. The report also urged public officials to provide enough notice to operators to implement health and safety protocols.

"We asked for two to three weeks notice and we got three days. Even then the government didn't actually post full details of what is expected of centres until the next day and we still don't know if there will be any additional funding attached to any of this. It's really concerning. I think they think that childcare workers can be miracle workers, and while I know the childcare sector wants to support families the government is trying to make us do this with one hand tied behind our back," she said.

Ferns has talked to approximately 1000 parents over the last couple of days and the consensus is that parents are "very worried."

"We did a quick poll and 86% said they were worried that their childcare centres will not have the proper support to open safely," she said.

Ferns also noted that while she knows the government had indicated that childcare centres will open in Stage 2, she said the sector anticipated more "guidance on what that would look like and with more than 3 days notice certainly." She brings up the fact and another concern that Ford's government gave the go ahead for centres to open in every part of the province while not every part of the province is currently moved to Stage 2.

Child care providers are trying to raise the alarm that certain health and safety measures are necessary but they can be costly.

"Childcare centres need to have additional funding in place to make this happen, otherwise fees will go up and we know that can't happen as childcare is already unaffordable for parents. Or centres won't be able to re-open at all and that's the dilemma that we are facing, and I wish that the government really made childcare a priority and put some money along with their nice words about supporting parents," she said.

While Ontario's minister of education Stephen Lecce said that stabilization funding will be available Ferns has not been privy to how much money will be available.

"None of this has been clear, the government hasn't released any numbers and actually there was no new money attached to that stabilization funding ... all the government is doing is trying to maximize the current childcare budget ... I'm sorry to tell them that's just not going to work," she said.

Ferns has a message for Doug Ford; you can't expect a quality service with additional restrictions, more staffing, PPE, more space for the same budget as prior to Covid-19.

Ferns said the coalition is advocating the government re-think their approach to daycare. She understands that economic recovery is vital but it needs to "work well."

As Ontario's employers learn that childcare centres will re-open tomorrow, what happens if a parent is not comfortable with sending their child into this new environment. Ferns noted that this will put parents in a "difficult position."

"We know many parents are not comfortable given how little support and re-assurance we have been given about childcare re-opening, I think that will make it really hard for parents. I wish the government would understand that we need a slow staged re-opening that properly supports parents and the childcare sector," she said.

Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care is Ontario’s central advocacy group for a universal early childhood education and care system. The organization wants low fees or no fees for parents; decent work and pay for educators; and an expansion of public and non-profit services. Formed in 1981, the OCBCC is a member organization comprising local child care centres, national and provincial groups and individuals from all across Ontario.

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