Parents and daycare operators say Ontario’s child-care reopening scheme is flawed, because there is not enough time to plan or adequate funding to care for children safely during the pandemic.
And although daycares in the GTA are officially allowed to reopen Friday, many will not, and some parents who have concerns won’t be sending their children to the ones that are.
Although he’s been home taking care of his two kids for months and not working, Patrick Wong is not in a hurry to send his kids back to daycare.
“I feel like the ball has been dropped,” said Wong, who was shocked by the lack of funding and strategy in the province’s sudden announcement Tuesday that daycares can reopen.
“The daycare contacted us and they said that they were unable to open up within the next month and they’re going to try and approach it in a safe manner,” said Wong.
“It’s great that someone’s actually taken responsibility in taking care of things.”
However, those safety precautions may be costly. Wong was warned fees might triple or quadruple.
But Amy O’Neil, who runs Treetop Children’s Centre, a non-profit daycare, says the province has prohibited child-care providers from charging parents higher fees.
O’Neil, who is also co-chair of the Toronto Community for Better Child Care, says COVID-19 regulations will mean additional expenses, including increased cleaning, sanitization and staff for screening children who arrive.
And on top of that, daycares must reduce the number of children they can take care of to eight per group, meaning they will have less income to pay for more responsibilities.
“It’s an unrealistic ask and it’s very irresponsible of this government,” said O’Neil.
“We’re not allowed to charge additional fees, but if we don’t charge additional fees we’ll go bankrupt.”
She adds that, along with a lack of funding, there is no clear strategy that will mean fairness for 450,000 children in more than 5,000 child-care centres.
“I mean, out of my 24 preschooler children, how do I decide which eight get the coveted spaces?”
The Ontario Ministry of Education says that by imposing specific public-health requirements, the government is signaling its firm commitment to keeping children, child-care staff, and families safe.
Other rules and recommendations outlined in the government document sent to daycares include:
- Frequent sanitization of toys.
- Removal of soft toys that can’t be cleaned.
- Temperature checks for each child when they’re dropped off.
But some parents who may need child care so they can return to work aren’t sure spaces will be available.
“My first reaction was surprise and then it was: ‘How the heck are they going to do this?'” said Meredith Barnes, a mom of four.
“There are a lot of regulations and restrictions already and then you put COVID on all this.”
Barnes has heard from the two different daycares her kids go to that they don’t have enough preparation time to open Friday.
According to emails from the operators, Barnes told CBC News, their daycares are not ready because they need time to get staff trained, new equipment and more information from the provincial government.
“I completely understand that,” said Barnes, who works in the film industry and knows the need for good planning.
But Patrick Wong isn’t sure the time is right, even if it means he can’t return to work just yet.
“At the end of the day, the big question is whether or not we even want to have them in there, because it doesn’t seem to me like we have a uniform practice of engaging safely.”