Child care waiting lists increase in many Ontario regions amid $10-a-day program

Daycare waitlists have skyrocketed across Ontario since the province joined the national $10-a-day program, as demand due to lower fees appears to be far outpacing the creation of new spaces in many regions. .

In Kawartha Lakes, one of several municipalities with a central waiting list, children will now spend an average of 6.4 years waiting for licensed child care, up from an average of 3.7 years in early 2022, before Ontario joined the program.

“Many will age before they have access to space,” social services manager Janine Mitchell wrote in a report to council in December.

In Waterloo Region, there has been a 115 per cent increase in the number of children on the waiting list since the $10 a day program was announced, with 9,200 children now in line.

The Niagara Region has seen a 76 per cent increase in its waiting list since March 2022, with particular spikes in demand for care for toddlers and preschoolers. The waiting list for this latter age group went from 712 to 2,326, an increase of 227 percent.

Ottawa’s waiting list has grown by more than 41 per cent and for more than half of the families on the list, the date they needed child care has passed.

The centralized waiting lists largely involve child care operators who are part of the national program, as 92 per cent across the province have opted for the $10-a-day system. Both licensed center operators and licensed home day care centers can be part of the federal program.

The waiting list at Kawartha Lakes has grown partly due to increased demand coming from significantly reduced rates (they have been cut in half so far and will be reduced further under the national program) and partly due to a shortage of early childhood educators, Mitchell said.

“We may have a child care program licensed to care for 10 babies, but because they don’t have (enough) qualified staff… they may not be able to care for 10, but rather only be able to take six babies.” “she said in an interview.

Government officials have warned that the province could be short 8,500 early childhood educators by 2026, the year Ontario aims to have created 86,000 new spaces.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced late last year a pay increase for ECEs that will raise starting salaries from one of the lowest in Canada to one of the highest.

The promise of 86,000 child care spaces includes those created since 2019. More than 41,000 spaces have been added in Ontario since then, Lecce said, although her office said not all of them are in centers that are part of the $10 a day program. .

“All provinces knew that with the reduction in rates, demand would increase,” the minister said this week.

“We have a plan to increase spaces across the board, 86,000, and obviously the government is committed to continuing to build excess spaces to meet the demand of families in the province.”

Kawartha Lakes has managed to increase the number of licensed home day care centers, but day care operators have said government funding for new center spaces is too restrictive, Mitchell said.

Funds can be used for renovations to create new spaces or to purchase equipment, but cannot be used to purchase land or buildings, or for school spaces.

Lecce said the money offered through startup grants represents about a third of the cost of starting a new child care center.

“So that’s a big incentive,” he said. “In addition, we have reduced bureaucracy to get child care centers started faster and licensed more efficiently, so we are looking at this from a multitude of ways of how we can help these often small businesses. u non-profit operators open their doors.

A representative from Andrew Fleck Children’s Services in Ottawa said at a provincial pre-budget hearing last month that the delay in Ontario’s release of a new funding formula for the $10-a-day program is also helping to hamper creation of new spaces.

The nonprofit provider has a new location with conceptual plans, cost estimates, architects moving to the building permit stage and expansion spaces approved under the $10-a-day program, Kim Hiscott said, but what’s needed It is construction financing and operating expense financing that is not based on the rates operators charged two years ago.

“We want to expand to address high waiting lists but we cannot, again, due to a lack of commitment to recovering actual costs,” Hiscott said.

Some operators have said the current funding model, with parents paying half the fees in 2022 and the government paying the other half, is not enough to cover rising costs such as staff, catering, rent, heating and supplies. They are asking for a new model that reimburses them for the true cost of running child care.

When rates are reduced further to an average of $10 a day, Mitchell, in Kawartha Lakes, believes that will drive more demand. Ontario’s push to build 1.5 million homes by 2031 will also help demand, she said.

“The city is committed to building 6,500 homes…which will also increase the number of people looking to access licensed child care services,” Mitchell said. “That’s why we will always be looking for ways to increase child care.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2024.

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