The Ontario Education Ministry has backed down from its proposed daycare regulations that would have severely limited space to infants and toddlers amid criticism by parents – and concern from child-care experts about decline in the quality of care.
The new regulations, posted Monday, will maintain the status quo – toddlers and infants will not be put together into one space as the proposed regulation had suggested.
The current ratios will remain intact so that infants – newborns to 18 months – will remain in a room separate from toddlers, who range in age from over 18 months to 2 1/2. Staff-child ratios will also remain the same.
The proposals were posted Feb. 1. They would have defined an infant as newborn to 12 months, meaning that they would be in a room with toddlers six months earlier.
Although the status quo has been maintained, the ministry has added a new twist, which is causing some consternation among child-care advocates.
The new regulations also allow for daycares to launch a pilot project that would put children from birth to age two into one room and put children from age two to five into another room. In addition, there is a third option – a so-called "family" age group that would put up to 15 children of all different ages into one space.
This would take effect in September, 2017.
In a statement from the Ministry on Monday, these regulations – allowing daycares to either maintain the status quo or adopt the pilot project – aim to "address the complex relationship between staff-child ratios, group size and educator training/qualifications while meeting the varied needs of families, children and communities in Ontario and supporting successful business models."
However, this has only left daycare experts and municipal politicians confused.
Toronto city councillor Janet Davis, a child-care advocate, says while she is pleased the ministry has stepped back from its proposal to group infants and toddlers in one space, she doesn't understand the logic behind the pilot project – and doesn't believe there was any public consultation on it.
Ms. Davis worked with infants in child care in the 1970s, when infants and toddlers were grouped together.
"I can tell you that the regulations were changed because the development needs of a newborn baby and a 24-month-old are very, very different," she says. "It will require changes to the built environment because there will be babies with children running around. It's very puzzling to me why they are moving in this direction."
She questions the ministry's explanation that this provides greater flexibility.
"But often flexibility means something else," she says. "I would like to understand, what are the assumptions behind this? Are they attempting to add more children? Are they are attempting to reduce the staff/child ratio? I don't know."
Martha Friendly, head of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, is equally miffed, calling the new regulations "murky."
"I'm kind of speechless," she said in an interview Monday. She says Ontario has no coherent child-care policy. Rather, policies, such as this pilot project, have sprung up with no research to back it, she says. Her worry is about the quality of daycare, and she is not confident these new regulations help that issue.