Growing city strains daycare services
Date Published | Aug. 21, 2007
BY WENDY BIRD
A shortage of infant daycare space has become a frustrating reality for many parents and childcare providers in the Greater Sudbury area.
Most recently, 10 childcare spaces for infants were opened up in a vacant classroom at Sudbury Secondary. The openings were filled with lightening speed, resulting in a lengthy waiting list of parents desperately seeking daycare for their babies who are 18 months of age or younger.
“There is a need across the whole city for infant programming,” said Carmen Ouellette, manager of children’s services with the city.
“The sector has grown a lot in the last couple of years. We have opened up about 1,400 spaces in the last two years, and there is still a demand for infant care. Parents will travel many miles to bring their child to a daycare that offers infant spaces.”
Ouellette is thrilled about a new program at Sudbury Secondary School that is managed by the Jubilee Heritage Centre, partially funded by the city, and licensed by the Ministry of Children and Youth. But the speed with which those spaces were snapped up is troubling to her.
“The opportunity came at Sudbury Secondary because the school board offered a bigger classroom, which allowed them to license that program,” she said. “It worked well in that instance, but there is still a need in New Sudbury and downtown. Even one daycare in Coniston has a wait list of more than 60 infants. We’re not addressing the problem that well right now.”
The problem is a combination of two critical factors: a lack of space and lack of childcare providers.
“As fast as people can graduate from college (childcare programs), we can get them jobs, but they often don’t stay,” Ouellette said.
Sadly, most early childhood educators aren’t paid that well. Current rates for people in these jobs are about $10 per hour, usually with no benefits or pension. Sometimes these workers will go back to school to become teachers or teachers’ aids because the rates of pay, benefits and vacation are superior.
“There is not a whole lot of money to be made in childcare. So providers have a hard time finding qualified staff, which is part of the problem,” Ouellette said.
Even if the childcare agencies in Greater Sudbury could find enough staff, they still have to solve the problem of a lack of space.
“More space in schools is needed, but schools don’t have space,” she added. “(School boards) don’t normally keep empty schools open. So it’s up to the Ministry of Education to offer additional programs, but they won’t open up certain classrooms unless they have a certain quota (of children registered.)”
Ouellette said the city is discussing with the daycare providers regarding their capability for growth within their existing centres.
“We are hoping to find alternative spaces for some of the programs and eventually grow. But it can’t happen overnight, and that’s the problem. By the time some of these spaces come available, it will be too late.”
Since 2005 the city has seen a growth in childcare spaces of 42 percent, and that demand continues to grow.
“That means the economy is really on the up, and that’s a good thing,” Ouellete said. “But childcare is scarce. There’s a lot of shift work, from nursing to mining to retail, and the daycare sector is not really prepared to handle that.”
The majority of workers in the childcare profession are made up of young mothers, a demographic of people who are already tapped by the demands of raising their young families in addition to handling full-time jobs caring for other children.
“So it is hard to say to a mom who has two kids and works in a daycare, ‘can you work till midnight?’ That doesn’t usually work,” Ouellete said.
The traditional centre-based daycare model does not offer child care around-the clock, something that is required by shift workers.
“So we are trying to convince agencies to open licensed homes so that at least someone could be open 24-hours-per-day,’ she added. “It’s not ideal, but that’s the reality of people’s daycare needs.”
August 23, 2007
To Wendy Bird
Re: “growing city strains daycare services”
Reading your article “Growing city strains daycare services” Aug 22 2007, I found myself very frustrated.
I have owned and operated a home daycare since 2000 and, up until yesterday, my services were provided to families in our community under the umbrella of a licensed agency. I still continue to offer child care, as this is my chosen profession. However, I had to discontinue my services through this licensed agency because I was unwilling to abide by the legislative requirements on age ratios contained in the Day Nurseries Act (D.N.A.).
The Day Nurseries Act states; “Every operator of a private-home day care agency shall ensure that the number of children, including the children of the person in charge, who are under six years of age in attendance at each location where private-home day care is provided by the operator does not exceed five and that the following number of children in each of the following classifications is not exceeded at any one time:
1. Two handicapped children.
2. Two children, who are under two years of age.
3. Three children, who are under three years of age.
4. One handicapped child and one child who is under two years of age.
5. One handicapped child and two children who are over two years of age but under three years of age. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 262, s. 56 (1).”
Home child care providers who work in partnership with a licensed agency (in the formal or regulated sector) have to abide by these ratios, as well as many other legislative requirements, but home child care providers not affiliated with a licensed agency (in the informal sector) can care for up to 5 day care children of any age, with no accountability to the public for the health, safety or education of our children. These ratios were established in 1990, a decade before the parenting leaves were extended to one year. Speaking from personal experience, I have seen fewer ‘infants’, children under the age of one year, in need of a daycare space than there once was, the most urgent need seems to be for children between 12 and 18months.
The D.N.A. was recently updated, in response to the Best Start initiatives, with very few changes affecting the regulated home child care sector. If the D.N.A. was updated for the home child care sector to allow home child care providers within the formal sector the same autonomy as home child care providers in the informal sector, we would be able to accommodate so many more children under three years of age. There are many home child care providers affiliated with a licensed agency that still have vacancies, but can’t accept other infants or toddlers because their infant/toddler age ratio limits have been reached.
I was glad to see that your article also touched on the problem of school aged children requiring before and after school care. We, formal home child care providers, have to turn these children away, because, even though they are over 6 years of age, they still count in our ratio numbers, forcing us to choose between filling a space with a fulltime/full day child, bringing in full time revenue or a S.A.C.C. (school age child care) child bringing in half the revenue.
Child care is not where the money is, people who choose child care as a career do so because they love children and want to help shape our future, not because it’s the ticket to easy street, but the reality is, providing a healthy, safe and stimulating environment for the children in our care does come at a cost. A lot of home child care providers are, like in day care centers, young mothers with children at home. One of the benefits is that our work is at home, allowing us to care for our own children while providing a stimulating environment for them. However, our family’s needs are also important and home child care providers are too, “tapped by the demands of raising their young families in addition to handling full-time jobs caring for other children”, even when at home with them. Many of us are willing to provide care and “be open 24-hours-per-day”, but without changes to the current legislative requirements and without financial incentives for evening, overnight and/or weekend care provided, we sometimes choose not to sacrifice our family needs.
It’s time for the Ontario Government to make some changes for the formal home child care sector. It’s time to revise the age ratios as listed in the D.N.A., to perhaps allow licensed agencies more discretion to assign a home capacity based on the home’s available space to accommodate the needs of the children, it’s time to allow a few minutes of overlapping enrolment between two children. Maybe it’s also time to add 2 additional daycare spaces over and above our maximum of 5 exclusively for before and after school care of children over the age of six years. Maybe then, we would be able to accommodate the needs of more children (and parents) and offer quality, accountable, reliable, flexible (including overnight care), responsive care, monitored by a licensed agency, and maybe put a dent in those waiting lists.
We’re doing all we that can within the constraints of the regulated sector. Is it time for the powers that be to step up to the plate to respond to changing demands?