Child care isn’t a frill

TheStar.com – opinion/editorial
Published On Wed Jul 13 2011.

Ottawa has abandoned the very idea of regulated child care and the province has refused to pay enough to cover its true costs. For far too many years, Toronto has been forced to scrape together the money needed to keep the city’s vital, yet unstable, child-care system going.

So it’s little surprise that the consultants hired to comb through city services looking for potential savings have a lot to say about child care. The “key opportunities” identified in the latest report by KPMG include eliminating 2,000 daycare spaces subsidized for low-income families; finding private operators for 55 city-run centres or closing them entirely; and doing away with city inspections of daycares.

Getting rid of the spaces that the city fully subsidizes would certainly save money — about $24 million a year. But this is not the elusive gravy that Mayor Rob Ford has been hunting for, or even a legitimate operating efficiency. This would be a real service cut with real costs to life in our city. To make matters worse, it would contribute to rising costs elsewhere.

If it chose, the city certainly could stop its daycare inspections, which ensure that kids are properly taken care of and the city is getting value for money. But is that what parents and taxpayers really want?

Though they identified the option, even KPMG’s accountants see the dangers in cutting access to affordable child care. “Reducing the number of subsidized child care spaces,” they write, “will make work and/or school less accessible to some parents, and may increase Ontario Works and Employment and Social Services case loads (and costs).”

Already there are nearly 20,000 families waiting for a subsidized space that would allow a mother to take a job to supplement the family income or let a single parent train for a better job to lift her family out of poverty. The last thing Toronto needs is to cut 2,000 of its 24,000 affordable spaces.

These spaces have been considered for cuts before and, each time, city council in its wisdom has found another way. There may well be efficiencies that can, and should, be found in the way the city delivers child care, but cutting spaces and subsidies is not a magic bullet to saving money at city hall. This is a service that taxpaying parents rely on.

Toronto has been doing its best to run a decent child-care system. But even the staunchest advocates on council know that the city can’t keep going as it is for much longer. Toronto, like other municipalities, lacks the tools and the funding sources to create the comprehensive, affordable system residents desperately need.

That’s why Mayor Ford and the city administration would do better to shift their focus to persuading the level of government that can provide a fix to see this as a priority. With a provincial election less than three months away, there’s no better time for the city to push the political parties to make commitments to child-care funding.

But if the city looks like it is willing to cut spaces to cut costs there will be little incentive for the next provincial government to do the right thing.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/1024548–child-care-isn-t-a-frill >

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