A Riverdale-area daycare is being denied funding from the city to create an infant room unless it stops providing before- and after-school care for full-day kindergarten children in the neighbourhood – highlighting the struggles in childcare as the province rolls out its ambitious full-day learning program.
The Children's Circle Daycare, which cares for around 160 children, had been promised a grant from the city to build a room for 10 infants. In July, just four weeks prior to construction, the daycare was told that it would not receive the money unless it stopped providing care to full-day kindergarten kids attending nearby Withrow Avenue Junior Public School and Frankland Community School this fall, as well as children who will start full-day kindergarten at Jackman Avenue Junior Public School next September.
The intent of Ontario's full-day kindergarten program is to provide childcare within the school building. A city spokeswoman said daycare operators inside Toronto District School Board schools have first priority as to whether they want to run the program, and the city has a policy of one operator per school to keep costs down. All three schools in Riverdale have existing childcare providers in their buildings.
The city confirmed it is withholding the infant room funds. "We have confirmed with the board at Children's Circle that the capital dollars remain available as long as it confirms that it will discontinue escorting FDK children by the 2015 school year, at which time FDK will be fully implemented and before- and after-school programs firmly in place in that neighbourhood," Elaine Baxter-Trahair, general manager Children's Services for Toronto, said in a statement.
But parents, not just in Riverdale, but across the city, are dealing with wait lists for school-based daycares, and want choice. Many of the families with kids attending full-day kindergarten at Withrow and Frankland chose to stay at Children's Circle. Mike Baril, a Children's Circle board member, is hopeful the city and daycare will resolve the issue. "I think it's an issue of ideology versus real-world implementation," he said.
The original intent of the full-day kindergarten program was that school boards would be solely responsible for all aspects of educating the child, including before- and after-school care. School boards, however, were reluctant to take on responsibility for providing more care. As a result, the province amended the legislation so that boards would have the option to allow daycare operators to provide before- and after-school programs. That has resulted in chaos, critics say. Some school-based daycare operators have complained about the lack of space, while others are dealing with funding issues and hiring staff on split shifts.
"The intent of the program is that it should be delivered in our schools. However, if you were to look at how full the schools are in some of our neighbourhoods, it's just not feasible," said Jane Mercer, executive co-ordinator for the Toronto Coalition for Better Childcare. "I think the city needs to show much greater flexibility so that they can truly respond to the needs of the community."