Hot! Ontario eyes lower child care standards

TheStar.com – Ontario/ParentCentral.ca –
January 27, 201.   Laurie Monsebraaten

Proposed changes to Ontario Day Nurseries Act

The following proposals are contained in a ministry of children and youth services discussion paper

Age groupings and group size

Current Regulations

•Under 18 months of age, maximum group size 10 (infant)

•18 months of age and over up to and including 30 months of age, maximum group size 15 (toddler)

•More than 30 months of age up to and including five years of age, maximum group size 16 (preschool)

•44 months of age or over and up to and including 67 months of age as of August 31 of the year, maximum group size 20 (JK/SK)

•56 months of age or over and up to and including 67 months of age as of August 31 of the year, maximum group size 30 (SK)

•68 months of age or over as of August 31 of the year and up to and including 12 years of age, maximum group size 30 (school-age)

Proposed Amendments

Maintain existing groups and add the following:

•Under 12 months; maximum group size: 10

•12 to 24 months of age; maximum group size: 15

•24 months of age up to and including 55 months as of August 31 of the year; maximum group size: 16

•36 months of age or over and up to and including 55 months of age as of August 31 of the year; maximum group size: 20

•44 months of age or over and up to and including 79 months of age as of August 31 of the year; maximum group size 26.

Child-Staff Ratios

Current Regulation

•Under 18 months of age; 1:3/3:10 staff:child ratio

• 18 – 30 months; 1:5 staff:child ratio

• 30 months – 5 years; 1:8 staff:child ratio

• 44 – 67 months group; 1:10 staff:child ratio

•56 months – 67 months group; 1:12 staff:child ratio

•68 months –12 year old group; 1:15 staff:child ratio

Proposed Amendments

Maintain the existing ratios and add the following:

• 0 – 12 months group; 1:3/3:10 staff:child ratio

• 12 – 24 months group; 1:5 staff:child ratio

• 24 – 55 months group; 1:8 staff:child ratio

• 36 – 55 months group; 1:10 staff:child ratio

• 44 – 79 months group; 1:13 staff:child ratio

Ontario is considering regulatory changes that would allow fewer staff to care for larger groups of young children in daycares as the province moves to all-day kindergarten.

The proposed changes to the Day Nurseries Act primarily affect children up to age 4 and are “intended to enhance operator flexibility during the implementation of full-day early learning,” according to a discussion document from the provincial ministry of children and youth services obtained by the Star.

But academics, advocates and operators who attended a ministry consultation on the changes this week panned the idea.

“We are horrified,” said Jane Mercer of the Toronto Coalition for Better Child Care, which represents non-profit daycares in the city, or about 70 per cent of centres.

“We never hear parents asking for fewer staff and larger groups for their children,” she said Wednesday. “This is clearly not the way to go.”

Child care operators are worried about staffing and the loss of subsidies when 4- and 5-year-olds move to full-day kindergarten in September and when schools begin offering before- after-school care for kids up to age 12.

And with the province still not committed to pick up $63.5 million in federal child care funds set to run out in April, many daycares say they may be forced to close.

But changing child-to-staff ratios and group sizes won’t help, said Mercer.

“This is just tinkering that will affect our standards and quality of care without helping anybody to remain more viable,” she said. “I think (the province) will be going back to the drawing board.”

Even the Association of Child Care Operators of Ontario, which represents the province’s commercial operators and asked for the changes, says it has some concerns.

“We have been in numerous discussions with the ministry around different changes,” said Kim Yeaman, who runs a 162-space daycare in Innisfil for children from 18 months to age 12. “We do have reservations regarding . . . changing the current child-staff ratios in the youngest age groups.”

If the proposed changes go through, Ontario would be the first province to lower child care standards, said Martha Friendly of the Child Care Resource and Research Unit. Friendly also attended the consultation.

“At a time when the province is moving towards a public system based on quality and best practices, this just doesn’t make sense,” she said. The last time Ontario tried to do this in 1974, there was a huge outcry and the province backed down, she added.

Ontario’s early learning advisor Charles Pascal, who is advising the premier and education minister on the implementation of his report to integrate early learning and care to age 12, was surprised the children’s ministry is discussing regulatory changes now.

“The whole purpose of the new Early Years Division in Education that is in the works is to ensure timely and coordinated policy discussions in order to reduce fragmented policy making and programming,” he said Wednesday.

Pascal’s report notes that changes to legislation — the Day Nurseries Act and the Education Act — should be made two or three years down the road so that “implementation experience can provide some excellent ideas for developing and refining legislation.”

A spokesperson for Laurel Broten, Minister of Children and Youth Services, said the province’s top priority is quality.

“We think it’s really important to hear from the community – the child care sector and operators themselves, academics, those concerned about these issues – to get some feedback,” said Paris Meilleur. “We certainly got a lot of great feedback yesterday and I expect we’ll get more.”

Once the consultations are complete, the ministry will post a summary of the proposed changes on its website for 30 days for public comment.

< http://www.parentcentral.ca/parent/education/childcare/daycare/article/756870–ontario-eyes-lower-child-care-standards >

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