The Hamilton Spectator

Getting the child care parents deserve


When the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care agreement was finally signed by Ontario with the federal government, Ontario families looked forward to the promised affordable, accessible, high quality and inclusive care.

Public and non-profit auspices were emphasized. Expectatio­ns were that child care would become a public, not marketdriv­en, service and that decent wages and working conditions would be provided.

Since the signing, child care in Ontario is more affordable. However, places for children have not increased to meet demand. Parents who have children with special needs still do not have the right to child-care services. With fees frozen, and insufficie­nt new funding, some non-profit centres are announcing that their current deficits will mean they may have to close and a few have closed already.

More child-care spaces are required. Parents report placing children on waiting lists for care before birth, or being told that they must wait two years for a place. Some mothers are staying at home, their careers on hold, as they cannot find quality child care. Hamilton has spaces for only seven per cent of all infants, and 29 per cent of all children from birth to kindergart­en, putting it in the bottom 10 of all Canadian cities.

To meet demand, the Ontario target for new spaces needs to increase; capital funding should cover the full costs of opening a new centre; and staffing shortages need to be addressed. Wages and benefits are so low that child-care operators cannot find the staff they need to operate some existing programs, let alone find staff for new ones.

Commercial operators charge higher fees than non-profit and public operators — 24 per cent more in Toronto and 11 per cent more in Hamilton. Ontario repays the portion of the fees lost to each operator through reduced fees to parents. There are no common fees, so more public money flows to those who charge most — the commercial operators.

As they generally pay their staff less than non-profit and public providers, they also stand to gain most from Ontario’s modest wage enhancemen­ts. If Ontario’s proposed wage floor increase is implemente­d, Toronto’s Children’s Services department believes only a third of all Toronto’s ECE staff would receive more wages, and just over half of these would work in commercial child cares. Inclusion has not improved: there are no requiremen­ts to serve special needs children or to accept children whose fees are subsidized, as currently provided by non-profits and public care. But only publicly run child care is subject to accountabi­lity, with the requiremen­t to have value-for-money audits.

The Ontario government’s recent announceme­nt for childcare funding, $85.5 million less than in 2023, fails to provide child care with the needed supports to reach the goals for accessibil­ity, inclusion and quality care.

The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care comments, “While federal funding has significan­tly increased, the provincial allocation to child-care is lower in 2024 than it was in 2018, even before adjusting for inflation.”

As with many other public services, child care is being underfunde­d; commercial providers are benefittin­g most from public money, with little accountabi­lity; costs are being downloaded to municipali­ties; local child-care planners are being hamstrung with cuts to their services; real improvemen­ts to child-care working conditions are being ignored; and childcare services to families are still not inclusive or expanding to meet demand.

Is Ontario deliberate­ly setting up the Canada Wide Early Learning and Child Care agreement to fail? When will parents get the child care they deserve?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada