Monday, 24 September 2012

Modernizing Child Care

My responses to the Government of Ontario's discussion paper: Modernizing Child Care in Ontario: Sharing Conversations, Strengthening Partnerships, Working Together

To the Ministry of Education, Early Years Division:

As a working mother with three young children, child care issues have occupied a significant amount of my conscious thoughts for the last 5 years. While working full-time, our children have been cared for in several different settings: licensed home care, not-for-profit child care centre, and in our home by a live-out caregiver. Although I know I am not unique, I believe that our family experiences in these different child care settings give me some grounding from which to participate in your conversations about the modernization of child care. I welcome the opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions, with reference to your discussion paper Modernizing Child Care in Ontario: Sharing Conversations, Strengthening Partnerships, Working Together.

Although I am unable to specifically address each of the questions posed for discussion, I offer the following comments to several of the main issues presented.

I believe that child care options should be uniformly affordable to all parents who require such services. In order to accomplish this, funding must match the demand, and access to subsidies should be increased.

Because the current system does not meet the demand, what seems to exist is a mutli-tiered child care system: only families who can secure a spot within, and afford the high costs of child care centres are able to reap the benefits of fully regulated, high quality child care. Funding must be secure and stable, and flexible so that both child care centres, and home-based child care each receive adequate funding to provide high quality care adapted to their different needs.

All families who require full-time child care should have access to affordable, high quality early learning child care programs. While some families may choose home care, I believe that all children should be exposed to early education environments, such as Ontario Early Years Centres. Funding to Early Years Centres and Best Start programs should continue so that even home-based child care providers are able to benefit and provide quality early education to children.

Consideration should also be made so that funding can accommodate variations from the standard work-day requirements for child care. Families have many different child care needs such as part-time care, non-traditional working hours, and no requirement for child care during certain periods of the year (e.g. summers off for teachers, seasonal work).

There may be merit in considering improved and set-minimum wages for child care workers. When searching for child care for our daughters, I remember feeling confronted with the dilemma of wanting child care costs to be affordable and manageable to our budget, while realising that someone who is caring for my children should be well paid.

Schools-First Child Care Policy and Community Needs
It seems intuitive to me that child care should be available within the school environment. Regardless of the age of the child, child care is about more than child-minding or baby-sitting. Even for young children, child care should be provided in an environment which supports learning and development. To me, a school is the ideal place for this.

Although there may be a need for community-based child care in limited situations, from a parent’s perspective, having child care options available within the school is essential. Even though my 2.5 year old does not ‘need’ to be in a school-based child care centre, having her within the school is of immeasurable convenience since our family also includes a 4 and 6 year old who attend school. It also provides for an easier transition for the child when ‘graduating’ from full-day child care to school.

In addition, schools are often not only sites for education, but community hubs. In cases where space or facilities prevent the inclusion of child care in schools, child care options, including Early Years, should be made available in adjacent or associated recreation or community centres.

Program Quality
Currently endorsed programming frameworks (e.g. Early Learning for Every Child Today, (ELECT)) or curriculums should be supported by the Ministry. Child care providers should show evidence of following these frameworks as contingency to licensure in order to ensure that children are exposed to developmentally appropriate, play-based and inquiry-based learning.

Child care providers should be recognised as professionals. By providing child care workers with adequate pay, benefits, training opportunities, and positive, professional relationships, it is more likely that high quality employees will be attracted and retained to the child care discipline.

In order for the government to help parents make choices about care, it must first acknowledge that as the system currently stands, many families are unable to make any real choices about child care. When child care options are unavailable because of cost limitations or long wait lists, families feel pressured to take whatever child care option becomes available.

Having been placed on child care centre wait lists, I feel that it would be of benefit to many families if there were a standardised procedure/protocol for wait list management. Although I cannot imagine the complexity of figuring out wait list priority versus requested start dates, I don’t really have any idea how wait lists are managed or if there is even any consistency between institutions in their wait list policies. Parents should be made aware of how the child care centres wait list system works so that we can understand and feel like a part of the process.

Child Care Standards
There should be harmonization in requirements for health, safety and quality for all avenues of child care: whether it is in a child care centre, in an external home or within the family’s home. Having utilised each of these options for the care of my children, I have witnessed first-hand the vast differences in quality and health/safety standards between these different settings.

There should be a higher level of accountability for home-based care with minimum standards for safety, health and early learning. In-home licensed child care is one means of accomplishing this; I speak from experience to say that it makes parents feel safer to know that there is some body overseeing the care of children in a stranger’s home. But for families using in-home child care with a live-in or live-out nanny, there is no accountability, and parents are left to rely on their instinct or gut-feeling, and the extra stress of wondering how well their children are actually being cared for.

While it is impractical to have all home-care settings licensed, standards could be met by either requiring home-based child care to be affiliated with a licensed child care organisation (e.g. Wee Watch), or require that all (non-family) child care providers be individually licensed.

In an ideal world, professional development in early child learning, first aid, and child discipline should be required and standardised for all child care providers. This could be attained through licensing of individual child care workers. After all, plumbers and electricians are licensed; shouldn’t individuals caring for our children also be required to meet a standard?

Finally, for home-based child care programs to meet the same standards for safety and learning environments as licensed child care centres, home-based programs must be fully supported to do so.

Middle Childhood Strategy
I’m in full support of the Middle Childhood Strategy. After-school care for 6-12 year olds should be about more than homework and free play. It presents an opportunity for children to learn and develop additional skills.

In addition to hours, fees and wages, child care operators should be required to report of wait list statistics, such as number of families on the wait list and the time spent on the wait list.

Thank you for the chance to share my thoughts and feedback on the important issue of caring for our children. It’s recently occurred to me that parents with young children are the ones most affected by child care policies, but we are often feel too busy balancing our careers with raising our families to make the time to make our opinions known. I am grateful for this opportunity to help make a difference.

Kind regards,
Average Working Mom

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