More than 155 daycares in Toronto applied for the national child care program in the first day-and-a-half after the city opened its application process, a positive sign for parents paying the country’s highest fees. But some daycares say they’re still waiting on critical details before deciding whether to participate.
“The city is thrilled with the response so far,” Shanley McNamee, general manager of the City of Toronto Children’s Services, said in an email. “We are confident that we will be receiving more applications in the coming weeks.”
On Thursday, the City of Toronto launched its “opt in process” for licensed child-care centers that want to enroll in the new federal child care funding program. In doing so, it’s joining about a dozen other municipalities in Ontario that have now taken this step.
According to Carolyn Ferns, public policy co-ordinator with the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, the move marks “the first real step toward $10-a-day daycare.” This is the average daily fee that the provincial government has promised to deliver by September 2025.
Ferns said she suspects the vast majority of non-profit daycares, which comprise three quarters of Ontario’s licensed child care centres, will choose to opt into the program.
In Toronto, some daycare operators, especially in the for-profit sector, say they want to enroll in the program but they’re still uncertain if they can. The city has already received one application to opt out of the program, according to McNamee.
The problem, they say, is that they’re still waiting for critical information on how the program will work exactly … and whether participating could prove financially ruinous for business owners who’ve taken out loans or invested their own money to open a daycare.
“We have no solid information, but we are basically two months away from the deadline to opt in,” said Maggie Moser, director of the Ontario Association of Independent Childcare Centres, who also co-owns an east-end child care center called Blossoming Minds. “It’s a very frustrating position to be in. I would love to be able to tell my families that we’re opting in tomorrow… but right now, we (can’t) do that.”
In March, Ontario became the last jurisdiction in Canada to ink a deal with Ottawa to join the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care funding program, a delay that drew fierce criticism from the child care sector.
“Over many months, our government remained focused on securing the best deal for Ontario families,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education wrote in an email. “We delivered a deal that cuts costs for families through billions in more funding, more child care spaces, and a longer agreement that protects parental choice.”
Ontario’s program features an approach toward reaching the target of $10-per-day fees on average, starting with an initial fee reduction of a quarter, retroactive to April 1. (In Toronto, families with eligible children will begin to see an average fee reduction by half, starting Jan. 1, 2023, according to McNamee).
When the deal was signed, the province said parents would start seeing rebates in May.
But for Toronto families, the earliest they’re likely to start receiving checks is now in the fall.
Because Ontario only signed its deal in March, municipalities are under a compressed timeline for completely overhauling child care in order to make the program work in their regions.
Everyone is scrambling, said Lisa Winters, managing director of Beatty Buddies, a non-profit daycare in east Toronto.
“It’s frustrating to see it get rushed through, when it’s something that’s so important to families,” Winters said.
Winters said daycare operators were given information about Toronto’s opt-in process on Wednesday, a day before it was launched.
The city’s 1,000-plus licensed child care centers now have until Sept. 1 to decide whether they want to opt in (or out) of the program.
But critical questions remain unanswered, Winters said: for example, which specific expenses will be approved under the program.
From Moser’s point of view, for-profit daycares are essentially being asked to opt into the program, and, therefore, commit to slashing their revenues in half by 2023, before they can even see a contract with specific details.
McNamee has acknowledged that the program is likely to “change somewhat in 2023 from what is currently in place” and said the city is continuing to work with the province over the coming months.
Moser said there are fears that for-profit centers could be blindly entering arrangements that will prove financially ruinous for business owners who’ve taken out mortgages, bank loans or poured their life savings into opening their daycare.
And while centers have been told they can choose to opt out later, there are no details yet on when or how this would be possible, she added.
Property taxes, an expense that many non-profit daycares don’t have, also aren’t considered an “eligible” expenditure under the provincial guidelines, Moser said. And, unlike non-profit daycares, for-profit centers aren’t eligible for grants or other funding sources, she added.
Moser said her association now hopes to meet with the province to discuss changes that would help for-profit daycares opt into the program.
“Everyone wants to opt in,” she said. “It’s just that right now, we can’t.”
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