Single system for child care encouraged

TheStar.com – Ontario/parentcentral.ca – Single system for child care encouraged
Full-day learning plan will help, group says
November 4, 2008.   Laurie Monsebraaten, SOCIAL JUSTICE REPORTER

The province’s plan to introduce full-day learning for 4- and 5-year-olds starting in 2010 is a perfect opportunity for Ontario to turn its patchwork of child-care services into a single system run by the education ministry, says a coalition representing child-care workers and elementary school teachers.

“We strongly recommend that all of the services of early learning up to the age of 12 sit under one ministry and one division to end the fragmentation,” said Jenny Robinson, of Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, which represents some 500 agencies, associations and individuals. “The key focus for us is to build a quality system for all children,” said Robinson, who will submit the coalition’s recommendations to provincial early childhood adviser Charles Pascal today.

Working families with 4- and 5-year-olds in half-day kindergarten programs scramble to find care for their children when they aren’t in school. Providing publicly funded full-day programs with the option of before- and after-school child care for a small fee would be a huge help, Robinson said. And it would provide the enriched early learning that experts say helps kids get a better start in life.

Child-care advocates also see the move as the first step in improving child-care worker salaries and career prospects and extending publicly funded programs to younger children for a nominal parent fee.

“We would like to see the early childhood educator have a career path within early education and early learning,” Robinson said. “Right now, it’s an underfunded, poorly paid and unsupported occupation.” The coalition is silent on who should staff the new program or where it should be offered. But it says standards, including staff-child ratios, should be at the higher Day Nurseries Act level of one to eight for this age group instead of one to 20 for kindergarten.

Elementary teachers’ unions have said only their members can teach in classrooms during school hours and that programs should be delivered in schools only. However, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation says in its June submission to Pascal that a mix of teachers and early childhood educators is preferable. They also recommend salaries of $45,000 plus benefits, for child-care workers.

Pascal, who has attended more than 70 consultations and received more than 2,000 emails, is accepting submissions at www.ontario.ca/earlylearning until next spring when his report is due.

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