I was all set to write about birthday cakes, until I heard on the radio this morning about the dozen or so parents who lined up all night for registration for six coveted day care spots at a subsidised child care centre in a school in west Toronto. Are the parents crazy? Would I do the same thing?
Yeah, I would probably line up for hours, even overnight if it meant getting a guaranteed spot for my kids in a licensed child care centre. Especially if it was a child care centre located within the school, and definitely if it was a subsidised child care centre. But would I line up for hours, overnight if it meant I was only going to get on the wait list? Probably not.
The trouble with wait lists is that they’re not really about waiting. At least for child care centres, in my experience, wait lists are not simply a virtual line-up of people waiting their turn for the next available day-care spot. The administrators may be waiting, but as a parent, you need to be proactively managing your place on the list. You have to play the game. Call persistently. Make your presence known to the child care centre administrators. Call again and again. Bring cupcakes to the child care centre. Keep calling.
It certainly isn’t a fair system. Now, I know that life isn’t fair. But when I think about the system for licensed child care in Toronto, I get upset and angry and frustrated.
When our oldest was born, we were warned by neighbours to start calling day-care centres as soon as possible. By the time she was about four months old, I think I had her name on two or three different child care centre wait lists. In the five plus years since, I only ever heard back from one of them. I wasn’t playing the game. Since no spots were available by the time I went back to work, we went with a licensed home care system.
Then, we were expecting again. This time, I called to put both Oldest and baby on the wait list for our preferred child care centre right away. Plus another day-care centre for Oldest. When I returned to work after this maternity leave, baby was in the child care centre, but there were still no spots for Oldest. We trekked back and forth between the child care centre and another licensed home care for 4 months until Oldest got a spot in the newly expanded preschool room of the child care centre.
By this time, baby number 3 was on her way. And here’s where it gets complicated. Of course, baby number 3 was put on the wait list almost as soon as I knew I was pregnant. But with Middle and Oldest, what would we do? We certainly couldn’t afford to pay for child care while I was on maternity leave. But that meant sacrificing their spots, and going back to the dreaded wait list. This time around, I had also gotten wise to the separate wait list for child care fee subsidy offered by the city. However, keeping up with two separate wait lists could turn into a part-time job. Nothing has ever come of the subsidy wait list.
Needless to say, there wasn’t a spot for them when I returned to work last March, and so we employed a nanny. Since having all three in a child care centre would have been cost-prohibitive while Youngest was an infant, using a nanny has at least been a more economical and convenient alternative, even if it wasn’t my preference. But now that Youngest will be a pre-schooler herself in September, we’re hoping that our seemingly perpetual wait list presence will pay off for us.
So we started with emails to the administrator in March and April. Now we’ve moved to phone calls, which are all but embarrassing as I try not to grovel, but just attempt to ascertain our chances. “Hi, my daughters are the wait list for September, and I’m just calling to find out where we are or if you think there will be spots for them.” “It’s too early to determine occupancy for September. Try calling again in late July or August.” Is the administrator just placating me? Can’t she give me any insight at all?
And so, I’ll call again next month, and then maybe move to a bi-weekly schedule. I haven’t moved on to cupcakes yet, but I might. I just might.