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“Daycares worry about ‘destabilization’

“Kindergarten changes jeopardize the system: Deans”

The Ottawa Citizen reports “Concern about steep fee increases and the possible closure of child-care centres is mounting across the province as the clock ticks toward the September implementation of Ontario’s new all-day kindergarten.

Municipal politicians and child-care agencies are warning that fees will likely rise by about 30 per cent and many centres will shut down when four- and five-year-olds move from daycare centres to schools.

Despite assurances from the province that it would strive to make the transition painless, doubts remain about the government’s ability to prevent massive disruptions to the system.

“We are worried about the destabilization of the child-care community because our subsidies are going to be siphoned off to the school boards from our kindergarten program,” said Diane O’Neill executive director of Aladin Childcare Services.

“If I lose my subsidy dollars, I am in threat of being closed because I won’t be able to fill those spaces.

“The fees will be going up anywhere between 20 and 30 per cent.”

O’Neill’s comments echo those of Toronto Mayor David Miller, who sent a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty earlier this month warning that “without adequate transitional resources, our staff estimates that fees for infant care will increase approximately 30 per cent, from an average of $71/day to $92/day.”

Miller says Toronto’s allocation of $786,000 in operating funds, which will pay for an additional 78 subsidized spaces, and $184,800 for capital projects are woefully inadequate for the transition to the new program.

“With a system of 24,000 subsidies and a wait list of more than 16,000, this will not address the system’s impact of the new programme (sic),” Miller wrote.

Diane Deans, chair of Ottawa’s community and protective services committee, who has sent her own letter to the premier about the potential for trouble ahead, agrees with Miller.

“We support all-day learning, but our deepest fear is that the new program is going to have adverse effect on the system. You take some of these subsidized spaces away and you put the whole child-care system in jeopardy,” Deans said.

The province has given the city $480,000 in operating funds, which will add 48 subsidized spaces, and $111,000 for capital, which Deans says is clearly not enough to manage the big change. The average fee in Ottawa for the toddler program is between $40 and $71 a day.

“There are a lot of details that have to be ironed out to make the system successful,” says Councillor Alex Cullen, whose request for a city strategy on how to implement the new program has been endorsed by the community services committee.

Part of the problem, Cullen says, is that no one knows exactly what is going on.

The agony stems from perhaps the biggest change in child care in Ontario, which was announced by McGuinty nearly a year ago. The $500 million program will see full-day learning in schools for four- and five-year-olds. School boards will offer not only normal school programs for the children, but also before-and-after school care. The Ottawa public school board has received $4.9 million from the province for the first year of the program, while the Catholic board got $2.2 million.

But the big fear across the province is that as children leave child-care centres and move to the school-based programs, they would leave a huge hole behind that operators will struggle to fill. Even more worrying, the child-care centres will lose the subsidies that many of the children have, threatening their survival. Operators say it will mean either closing down, cutting services or increasing fees to make up the losses. But neither choice is sustainable, particularly for agencies that have large numbers of subsidized spaces, they say.

Take O’Neill for example. She has about 230 children in her centre. She says a little less than 100 are subsidized spaces, which she would lose if the children enrol in a school-run program. The funding loss will gut her centre and she doesn’t know if it can survive, especially because she wouldn’t have the economies of scale that allowed her to run the more expensive toddler program. She says it is questionable whether she can sell the empty subsidized spaces to parents who pay the full fee. It would be even worse for fully subsidized child-care centres.

“There will be centres closed and these centres are the ones that will be serving the population in the lower socio-economic areas of the city that can’t afford regulated child care,” O’Neill said.

Frank Clarke, a spokesman for Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky, who is now responsible for the new child-care vision, acknowledged the concerns but said the province will help cities deal with with transitional problems. He said the province has a stabilization fund that will grow to $51 million, and another $12 million over five years to retrofit child-care centres to serve younger children.

“Our government will help stabilize the child-care sector as a direct result of full-day learning,” Clarke said.

“The current allocation of the City of Toronto and Ottawa will grow just as the stabilization fund will grow over time.”

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