Ontario child-care operators have days to opt in to $10 daycare


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When Mike Walker heard the child-care centre his daughter is currently enrolled in may not opt in to Ontario’s $10-a-day program, he quickly put her back on the waiting list at another facility.

“We already put her on (the list for) three daycares as soon as they said it was unlikely that they would opt in when the first deadline was pushed,” he told CTV News Toronto.

“It seems unlikely that she’ll get in until she’s in junior kindergarten.”

Walker pays about $1,850 a month for his child to be in daycare, and says the financial burden is impacting his family’s decision to have another kid.

“(It’s) the difference between probably having a kid sometime soon, versus … waiting until my daughter’s through the daycare system and in the public system,” he said.

“It would be crazy to have $4,000 of daycare payments a month. It’s not really sustainable.”

As of Friday, the Ontario government said that 86 per cent of child-care centers in the province have chosen to sign on to the program. The deadline to opt in is Nov. 1.

Ontario inked a $10.2 billion deal with the federal government in March 2022 to join the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) system. Since then, there’s been a contentious dance between child-care operators—many of whom run for-profit facilities—and government officials.

Many operators have expressed concern about how the new system could impact their businesses, saying that each municipality has their own set of rules they need to navigate. They argue that unless additional funding is provided to make up for inflation and allow operators to make revenue in order to pay rent, salaries and food costs, it will be impossible to run their centres.

This week, some child-care advocates met with provincial and federal officials to get clarification on that funding and to explain why they are apprehensive of the program.

Maggie Moser, an operator of a child-care centre and director of the Ontario Association of Independent Childcare Centres, was one of the individuals who met with Minister of Families Karina Gould. While she did not disclose specific details about what was discussed, Moser said “it was beneficial” to meet with federal officials.

“We’ve been hearing concerns from many child-care centre owners across the country about how it has affected their centres, so we wanted to find out a little bit more directly from the person who is I suppose responsible for the program in terms of implementation and the creation of the program,” she said.

“That was very helpful to us to have a chance to talk with her and ask questions and have answers and to clarify some of her comments.”

The meetings come two weeks after a memo was sent to stakeholders and partners showing that funding under the CWELCC will remain the same for 2023 as it was in 2022.

In the documents, the government says operators will not lose any money next year by opting into the program, adding that Ontario will earmark an additional $1.2 billion in funding to make up the difference of lost revenues.

On Dec. 31, 2022, daycare fees for parents will be reduced by an additional 37 per cent under CWELCC. This is in addition to the 25 per cent fee reduction retroactive to April 1, 2022.

The combined reductions should bring fees to 50 per cent of 2020 levels.

Under the current funding guidelines, the government will pay and revenue lost from the reduction of those fees. It will not, however, provide additional money to make up for rising inflation, for example.

No funding guidelines have been released for future years under the program either.

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According to Moser, officials within the Ministry of Education were able to clarify where things stood for 2023 and what would happen in 2024.

“Child-care centres really do need long range planning,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that you have to look at ahead and we’re usually working about six months to a year ahead on just basics.”

She said the advisory committee will start on the 2024 funding model likely in the winter of 2023 and called it a “good timeline.”

“Once we get started working on that we’ll have a better idea of which direction we’re heading, which is what is needed.”

However this doesn’t quite alleviate concerns some operators have over how they are going to make up for lost revenue under the CWELCC, particularly after the next year. Moser said it would have been nice to have a five-year funding model so that operators could have more stability.

“Some people are worried about that and they may choose to opt out because of that.”

PROGRAM REBATE WAS ‘LIFE CHANGING’

For Whitby, Ont. resident Damien Boylen, the rebate he received from the CWELCC is substantial.

A month ago, he received a cheque for about $4,500 in retroactive daycare fees. The daycare his two kids are enrolled in have opted in to the $10-a-day program.

“It’s a huge amount,” Boylen told CTV News Toronto on Friday. “This year was pretty expensive.”

“It’s life changing.”

On average for both kids, Boylen was paying just under $3,000 a month in child-care fees. He said that his daughter, who is four years old, is now starting school and the family was relieved to have the financial burden lifted from their shoulders, especially considering steadily rising interest rates in the country.

With his two-year-old son still in daycare, the family is looking forward to a further reduction of fees at the end of the year. At the same time, he hopes child-care workers will continue to be supported under CWELCC.

“We have great, great care for both our kids,” he said. “We know that they’re safe. I’m not concerned about them.”

“The hope will be that these reductions doesn’t impact on their livelihoods, or the level of care that they’re going to be able to provide to kids.”

For Walker, that extra money would go a long way. He said he originally chose to enroll his daughter in a for-profit centre in January because the waitlists were moving too slowly and his wife needed to return to work.

While he has his fingers crossed that his daughter will be picked by one of the other child-care homes participating in CWELCC, Walker actually hopes he doesn’t have to make a change.

“We actually love the daycare,” he said. “But then obviously, as everything is unfolding now, it seems like more of a curse than a gift, looking back at it.”

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