Where Do We Go from Here?

Please make your voice heard, we know that historically, provincial government ears are turned much more by the voices of the families impacted.

Over three months have passed since the mandatory closure orders were issued across Ontario that saw all schools, Licensed Child Care Centres and EarlyON Child and Family Centres close their doors, businesses shut down, and people laid off or working from home.

Families were suddenly having to juggle all their children home full time, homeschooling, working from home or working outside of the home and sometimes relying on friends and family to care for their children while some First Responders, Medical Personnel and staff at Long Term Care Facilities were provided access to Emergency Child Care Programs.

This has been a stressful and uncertain time for every family in Ontario.  On June 9th, an announcement was made that Child Care Centres in Ontario could reopen on June 12th if they were prepared to follow the strict guidelines laid out by the province.  Unfortunately at the time of the announcement, no municipality had actually received a copy these guidelines, which were released after the close of business that day onto their website.

For many weeks prior to this announcement, experts in Child Care such as The Ontario Collation for Better Child Care and The Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario had offered many sound recommendations for how the reopening of Child Care could be offered to create safe, joyful, quality learning environments for children, clear protocols to ensure the healthy and safety of Educators and the families they serve as well as financial stability for the Early Learning and Care sector that was already struggling prior to the pandemic.  These recommendations were completely ignored.  Instead, the plan provided by the province provided no clarity, no supports and no clearly defined financial resources to support the immense costs that would be required to ensure that the health and well being of families and educators were protected.

Two weeks prior to the reopening announcement, municipalities received a memo outlining a provincial government Sustainability Funding Model that sent the Early Learning and Care Sector into a financial tailspin. When the mandatory closure of Programs began in mid-March due to the pandemic, municipalities were assured that funding would continue to support their agreements with Early Learning and Care programs.  Based on that continued funding commitment, Centres adapted programming to formats so they could continue to offer quality programs and supports, planning and participating in professional learning opportunities in order to best serve families during the closure and beyond.

At the end of May, all Early Learning and Care Programs received a very different message as they were informed of the aforementioned Provincial Sustainability Funding Model which would retroactively reduce funding from the beginning of the closure period in mid March for Child Care Centers, Licensed Home Child Care providers and EarlyON Child and Family Centres.

This change will likely reduce the number of Child Care spaces available by several hundred, increasing the current shortage of child care spaces.

The financial impact of this decision to retroactively retract funding that has already been received is so devastating because most of these organizations followed the previous government directives and kept staff employed, while those who had laid off staff hired them back, and continued to work to support families.

A significant portion of the wages of EarlyON Child and Family Centre Program staff since the beginning of the pandemic will not be covered.   No administrative wages will be funded and other wages will be reduced.  None of the staff wages for Child Care Centres will be covered by the Province for this period either.  These organizations will have to apply for the Federal Wage Subsidy which will only cover up to 75% of those wages, despite the fact that they have not been able to earn any income during this period.  They will have to find ways to fund expenses that have already been incurred.  Child Care Centre staff wages are funded primarily by fees paid by the users.  Most Child Care Centres run on an extremely tight budget and many will not have the reserves needed to make up this shortfall.   This retroactive funding change has already led to the decision by some Centres to close permanently because they cannot climb out of the debt they now face.

As the economy reopens, we need child care more than ever to support families starting to go back to work. Now they are faced with few choices.  Some organizations will not be opening for weeks, months or perhaps ever again.  The three potential models that were announced last week for the reopening of schools clearly indicate that some children may not be heading back to school five full days a week.  This funding cut potentially creates many more children in need of part or full-time care, putting pressure on a system that could not meet the former level of demand for their services.

For fifty years, experts and advocates have illustrated through study after study the need for the provincial and federal governments to partner and collaboratively develop a Child Care plan that is not carried upon the back of mostly female Educators who are perpetually underpaid and families who simply cannot afford the fees to have their children cared for outside their homes.

A lack of day care services will slow down workers re-entering the workforce as families are forced to have a family member stay home instead of returning to work, putting a damper on economic recovery.  It will also eliminate choices for families seeking quality Child Care options for their children.

If we don’t invest in our children, we are not investing in the health and well-being of our province for the future.  Please make your voice heard, we know that historically, provincial government ears are turned much more by the voices of the families impacted.  Reach out through emails, letters and phone calls to your local MPPs and let them know how these decisions are impacting your family.

By Nancy Hurley, The Old Millbrook School Family Centre

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