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Ontario cracks down on dangerous, unregulated daycares Add to ...

In an effort to improve safety and increase regulated child-care spaces, Ontario has introduced new legislation that gives inspectors more power to crack down on dangerous daycares, and creates an incentive for providers to become licensed by allowing them to take in an extra child.

But if the amendments pass, some parents, at least in the short term, may have to scramble to find new places for their young children. Unlicensed providers would be able to have fewer children – and face hefty fines for breaking the rules.

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Currently, the maximum number for a home daycare is five, but unregulated providers, who are not subject to standards or inspections, do not count their own children in that total and are not required to follow the same age ratios as licensed operators. The changes would make the rules the same for both groups, but allow regulated caregivers to look after one more child. “There’s a financial incentive right now to not be licensed,” Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals said. “We are going to flip that.”

Most experts believe that creating more licensed spots is essential to improving quality in a system plagued with short supply and high fees, often for sub-par care. The province estimated that if every licensed caregiver takes on an extra child, 6,000 new spots will be created. (The amendments would also mandate school boards to provide before and after care for all elementary students, directly or through third-party contracts, paid for by parents, where demand exists.)

Unregulated caregivers would have to reduce their existing numbers, and Brenda Burns, president of the Ottawa-based Child Care Providers Resource Network, says some will “close their doors.”

That’s part of fixing legislation that has not changed in decades, said Marni Flaherty, president of the Home Childcare Association of Ontario. “We will be able to build a better system to improve quality,” she said. “This is a huge step forward.”

The proposals do not address quality issues such as improved training for licensed home daycare providers and raising minimum standards, points out Martha Friendly, executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit.

Ms. Friendly also expressed concern about allowing an extra child as a financial incentive to be licensed, when many experts consider existing child-caregiver ratios too high. “I really worry about one person in a private home having that many children.”

Still, she said, the proposals will kick-start an overdue debate in the legislature, opening up a broader discussion about how child care should be funded, and the role of government in creating more space.

And for the most serious cases – such as the unlicensed daycare in Vaughn where two-year-old Eva Ravikovich died in the summer and paramedics and police found 27 children – the proposed law makes an important correction: In addition to fines of up to $100,000, inspectors would not need a court order to shut down the worst offenders. They would be able to do it on the spot.

Other details in the proposed legislation:

  • The amendments will clarify which types of care do not require a licence, including care by relatives, babysitting, short-term care in malls or gyms, nannies and camps for school-aged children. All private schools that care for more than five children under the age of four will need to be licensed.
  • School boards will be required to provide before- and after-school programs, where demand is “sufficient” either directly, or through third-party contracts for students Grade 1 to Grade 6. Currently, although schools may have programs for older children, school boards are required only to provide care for full-day kindergarten students. It is not clear, however, what will count as “sufficient demand.”
  • The province will also have the authority to accredit early childhood education programs, and will make it mandatory that membership to the College of Early Childhood Educators is revoked if a member is found guilt of sexual abuse or crimes related to child pornography.

The proposed changes focus on enforcement issues, and the province has already announced it is creating a special team of inspectors to enforce daycare regulations, and creating a database so that parents can more easily search for “verified complaints” about daycares.

Reducing the waiting list that families currently face, and creating more licensed child care spots, Ms. Sandals says, will require help from Ottawa. Although the number of licensed spots has increased by almost 100,000 spaces in the past 10 years, according to government statistics, there are still only enough regulated spots in Ontario for about 20 per cent of children under the age of five. Ms. Sandals points out that in that same time frame, the province has increase funding for child care by 90 per cent to roughly $1-billion in 2013. But to create more centre-based space at more affordable rates, she said, “we are going to need to see the federal government come to the table across the country and help the provinces.”

Follow on Twitter: @ErinAnderssen

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