"Hard pressed parents, who must return to work to provide for their families are left with just non-regulated spots. YOYO childcare systems do not leave them “with a choice” but rather with “no other choice”.
Toronto (19 July 2013) — Ontario law about childcare in home-based settings is clear, says Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE). A family home used for childcare need not be regulated if it has five or fewer children less than 10 years old, not including the caregiver's children.
In a commentary written this week, Thomas examines the shortcomings of the current child care system in Ontario and the rest of Canada.
Child care system failing
The death of an infant, like the death in Vaughan, is always a tragedy. Vaughan’s non-regulated provider had 27 children under one roof. This occurrence touched off a firestorm of investigations and examinations that focused on who could be held responsible for the death. A lot of ink has been spent on the role of government regulators and inspectors. Past complaints about the home had reportedly not all been investigated by the inspector (a member of OPSEU/NUPGE).
Questions have been raised at Queen’s Park by the NDP youth services critic Monique Taylor, who blamed the Ministry of Education for not following up on earlier overcrowding reports at the Vaughan home. According to a spokesperson from the Ministry, “There are 54 inspectors to respond to between 200 and 300 complaints per year about unlicensed daycares.”
Government trying to blame single individuals rather than taking responsibility
This statement is designed to deflect responsibility from the government while placing it on the shoulders of an inspector. One could think that investigation of complaints is all the inspectors do. How misleading. Following up on complaints is just one segment of the work expected from inspectors. With their many requirements, enforcement cannot stop these practices of unregulated childcare providers.
Shame on the politicians that use tragedy for their political purposes! Without ignoring any fact or person that contributed to this tragedy, we must look deeper before coming to a conclusion.
"You're on your own" is the child care motto in Canada
Today, Ontario has a “you’re on your own” (YOYO) childcare system. Instead of supporting a universal system that would make Canada more productive and progressive, our federal government provides a payment to parents of about $100 a month. After that – YOYO! Provinces try to regulate within this framework.
It is time for a little history. In 2005, Ken Dryden, Federal Liberal Minister of Social Development, concluded licensed daycare agreements with provinces to start a national childcare program. It provided funding and regulatory consistency that ensured supply of spaces at adequate standards. Next, that government was toppled through a loss of support from the NDP (albeit on other issues). Then the Conservative government replaced the accord with a $100 a month YOYO program. They said that, with cash in hand, parents would be free to choose where to put their children.
This set up is what we have today. There are few safe and secure regulated places parents can spend their YOYO childcare stipend.
Dismal record on regulated child care spaces in Ontario
A CBC study showed that Ontario has regulated spaces for just 14.9 per cent of children aged 0 - 12 years old. For the age 0-5 group, there is a regulated full or part-time centre-based space for 19.7 per cent of children. This is a stark contrast to Quebec, which takes a far more inventive approach to childcare through a provincial program. Quebec has regulated space for 37.4 per cent of children aged 0 - 12 years of age and there is full-time centre-based space for 28.5 per cent of children aged 0 - 5 years old.
Today, unregulated home daycares across the province run mostly by stay-at-home moms. Most of their income is tax deductible as they deduct legitimate business expenses related to their home. It can be lucrative.
Home-based, unregulated sites are difficult to track, and therefore inspect
As unregulated sites, few of these homes ever get inspected. In fact, there is no way to determine where many sites are. Investigations are sometimes launched because of jealous neighbours or competing home daycares. Sound community-focused regulation is replaced with the law of the jungle.
In the case of the unregulated Vaughan home, there were 27 children in care when the coroner arrived. Most centres of this type exist off the radar until a tragedy occurs. The Vaughan home is not the only bad actor. Why? Hard pressed parents, who must return to work to provide for their families are left with just non-regulated spots. YOYO childcare systems do not leave them “with a choice” but rather with “no other choice”.
Government must ensure needs of parents and children are met through adequate funding and legal structures
When we look for examples, we should examine other jurisdictions. The key is to have government ensure the needs of parents and children are met with funding for sufficient childcare spaces that meet reasonable regulations. These spaces can be located in large centres or be home-based. When possible, non-profit providers should be encouraged to fill this need.
To do this, legal structures are needed for the sector. Sufficient funds can flow to ensure standards can be met. Parents should pay a share, with an investment also made from government taxes. Once this improved structure was up and running, inspectors would ensure compliance to legal standards. Ontario can lead with a system that supports parents, increases productivity and ensures that all children flourish.
Conservatives have fought against licensed daycares, full-day kindergarten and a universal childcare program
Ontario Conservative Tim Hudak commented that "this is what government should be about. Government is there to make sure that the laws are in place and enforced…” This is disingenuous, given that his federal cousins gave us the YOYO program then set the stage for the tragedy in Vaughan. Ontario Conservatives fought against licensed daycare, hate full-day kindergarten and supported the destruction of national daycare. His was also the party that brought us past failures like Walkerton. Given that he and his party oppose red tape, regulation and government oversight, his statements now seem even more out of sync.
Hudak and the Conservatives cannot help with the childcare problem. The solutions require the legal framework, agencies, public workers and community activists he rejects. So, instead of just looking for an inspector to blame, let us admit that YOYO childcare programs have failed.
Let us learn from this to build a better system for the future.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE