Ontario tightens rules governing unregulated daycare
TheStar.com – News/GTA – New child care legislation would give Ontario more power to fine or close illegal daycares
Dec 03 2013. By: Laurie Monsebraaten
Ontario is tightening provincial rules governing unregulated daycare businesses and throwing the book at those that flout the law.
Under the Child Care Modernization Act, being introduced Tuesday, the province would be able to immediately close a daycare where children are at risk.
In addition, the act would allow ministry officials to levy penalties of up to $100,000 per infraction against caregivers running illegal daycares.
Maximum fines would rise from $2,000 to $250,000 under the proposed act.
If the legislation is enacted, ministry officials would no longer have to go to court to issue fines or shutter an illegal daycare.
“When parents drop their children off for child care, they want to know they’re in a safe nurturing environment, regardless of whether they are in licensed or unlicensed care,” Education Minister Liz Sandals said in a statement.
“They also need to know that the government will be able to intervene when a child’s safety is at risk,” she said.
The proposed legislation would also take away the financial incentive of remaining unregulated. Under the act, anyone providing care for more than five children under age 10 — including their own children — would require a licence.
It means unregulated caregivers will no longer be able to exclude their own children in the maximum number of kids allowed, Sandals said in an interview.
Unregulated caregivers would be further restricted by being able to care for only two children under age 2, as is currently the law for regulated home daycares.
The legislation is in response to the death of three young children in unregulated Toronto-area home daycares since last July.
One of the homes in Vaughan, where two-year-old Eva Ravikovich died, was illegally caring for 27 children when police and emergency services arrived.
The Ministry of Education later admitted that it had neglected to follow up on four complaints about the home and suspended two employees, prompting an investigation by Ontario’s ombudsman. Eva’s parents have since filed a $3.5-million lawsuit against the province and the owners and operators of the unlicensed daycare business.
If approved, the new legislation will also close a 1993 loophole that has allowed private schools to operate pre-schools without a daycare license.
Currently these programs operate without any rules in stark contrast to licensed daycare centres which must follow strict health, safety and programming rules and are inspected annually.
To signal the province’s support for licensed care, the proposed legislation would increase the number of children allowed in regulated home daycares from five to six children under age 10, as “they are the ones being regularly monitored,” Sandals said.
The increase is in line with what several other provinces allow, including Quebec, she said.
The new legislation, which runs to more than 100 pages, also clarifies many “gray areas” in the current rules around what type of care has to be licensed.
The proposed act exempts family members, nannies and occasional babysitters from requiring a license. Play areas in stores, day camps and recreation programs would also be exempt.
Provisions in the act would also give the education ministry more authority to share child care information with other ministries and government authorities, such as Children’s Aid and public health.
Changes to the Education Act also being introduced Tuesday would ensure school boards offer before- and after-school programs for 6 to 12-year-olds where there is sufficient demand. School boards are currently only required to provide these programs for students in junior and senior kindergarten. Under the amendment, programs for older students could be delivered directly by the board, by third-party child care providers or authorized recreation providers.
In the vast majority of complaints investigated by ministry officials, the caregiver isn’t aware they are breaking the law and are quick to comply, Sandals said.
But in cases where caregivers are deliberately non-compliant, the legislation will give ministry officials the power to immediately issue fines of up to $100,000 and, or, close the operation.
The legislation further allows for court-ordered fines of up to $250,000.
Currently, ministry officials have to go to court to issue fines or close illegal daycares.
“It’s really very onerous under the current act to get any sort of penalty and then the penalty isn’t worth much,” Sandals said of the current $2,000 maximum fine. “That has got to change.”
< http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/12/03/ontario_tightens_rules_governing_unregulated_daycare.html >