The death of 2-year old Eva Ravikovich and her parents' lawsuit charging the Ontario Ministry of Education with failing to adequately protect children in illegal child-care settings has cast a spotlight on independent home child care and sparked an important debate about how to ensure the safety and quality of care for our children.
Home-based child care providers are ready to work with parents and the Ministry to provide top-quality child care. However, we need a child care system that encourages partnership and empowers everyone to ensure that our children's early years provide the best foundation for optimum child development.
A safe, reliable and high-quality provincial child care system does not have to be costly or complicated.
Independent home child care providers are most working parents' choice for child care. Parents choose it because this setting provides a more personal, loving, home-like environment where there is a greater flexibility and children benefit from the close bonds they need. Home child care also provides personalized options that are suited to parents' ethnic, cultural, dietary and other child rearing philosophies.
In order to find and choose the right setting however, parents must understand how to define the type of child care they need, where to find it and how to express these needs to their child's caregiver.
Home child care is woven within the fabric and culture of each unique community. This includes care provided in a family's own home by nannies or relatives and care provided in other homes by relatives and home child care providers. By its very nature, home child care adapts itself very differently in rural and remote settings, in suburbs and in urban downtown cores.
Independent home child care providers are accountable for the quality of the care they provide. They are motivated to be part of a system that recognizes their uniqueness and empowers them to provide the best possible care. However, to provide the highest quality care possible, they also need provincial child care health, safety and welfare standards, with an emphasis on developmental learning.
This system is affordable and would be easy to manage. It can be affiliated with existing provincial programs such as the Ontario Early Years Centres and above all, it should encourage co-operation between all stakeholders. We are all working towards the same goal.
We must all work together to build an affordable, high-quality child care system that will ensure our children's early years provide the foundation for a lifetime of growth, development and positive achievements. This can be done in four steps:
Step 1: Establish provincial early learning and care health, safety and welfare standards for home child care.
Step 2: Share these standards with parents and independent home child care providers through a province-wide public education campaign.
Step 3: Establish a provincial registry of home child care providers to unite them and connect them to the appropriate provincial support and resources. Core features should include basic caregiver qualifications, training and membership in a support network such as the Child Care Providers Resource Network (CCPRN), ongoing training and resources for parents and all home child care providers.
Step 4: Set up a voluntary system of accreditation built on a common framework which will ensure that all independent home child care providers provide optimum high quality care. This program would assure parents that their caregiver is committed to meeting standards and continuously improving the quality of the service they provide. Accreditation can promote a standard of care based on and exceeding the Day Nurseries Act while incorporating the E.L.E.C.T. (Early Learning for Every Child Today) framework.
Ontario's children are our most precious resource and our future. Every single one of them has the right to the best possible care. Parents often use their hearts to make decisions about where to place their children, but they also need the knowledge to research options and make an informed choice.
There is room for all types of child care within our society and it is absolutely possible to develop an excellent, transparent and publicly managed system of child care in Ontario. This system does not need to cost taxpayers billions of dollars or levy a huge administrative burden to government.
Let's focus on co-operation and empowerment to improve the child care system in Ontario. After all, aren't those the same principles we use to raise our children?
Brenda Burns is president and Doreen Cowin is executive director of the Child Care Providers Resource Network of Ottawa-Carleton (CCPRN).