The process of transferring responsibility for licensed child care from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to the Ministry of Education has begun. At this early juncture it is not immediately apparent the impact that this move will have on the licensed early learning and care system.
The first stage of the transfer involved the staff responsible for child care policy and program moving to the Early Learning Division in the Ministry of Education. We understand that responsibility for contract management will be moving in the fall of 2010. It is not yet clear when responsibility for licensing of early learning and care programs will be transferred.
Creating a coordinated, comprehensive system of early learning and care programs and services for children and their families is a huge endeavour. It is reasonable to presume that the move forward will be at least somewhat simplified by this transfer of responsibility.
However, the transfer also raises a number of questions. The chart below outlines a few of the issues that may be of concern for the licensed child care system and the families to whom they provide early learning and care programs and services:
Implications for Licensed Child Care
Expectations and standards – a range of regulations for different programs providing early learning and care for four- and five-year old children.
It will be a full five years before all four- and five-year old children have access to full day early learning. It is our understanding that there has not been a significant uptake by parents for the extended day program.
It is also our understanding that the majority of boards of education will be offering the extended day program only on instructional days, and then only in a limited number of sites.
Consequently many four- and five-year old children will continue to attend both school and licensed child care programs.
The coming together of the two sectors in one ministry creates both challenges and opportunities for licensed child care. There may be changes in regulations that will have quality and cost implications for child care centres.
Programs providing licensed child care under the Day Nurseries Act and its Regulations operate with different requirements than classrooms operated under the Education Act and the newly proclaimed Bill 242, which serves to amend the Education Act. Some of the significant differences include:
One of the most significant current differences between the education sector and the licensed child care sector relates to adult/child ratios. Balancing the "care" needs together with the "early learning" needs of children is critical. Ratios that recognize the importance of both, particularly over the duration of what may be a 10 or 11 hour day for a child will be critical.
An average (which means that it may be higher) ratio of 2:26 may make it difficult to meet the care needs of the younger children and the expectations of their parents.
The move of licensed child care to the Ministry of Education will create greater opportunities to mesh these differences, building on the strengths to be found in both sectors. This should serve to create consistency for the children, for their parents, and for the staff who work with them.
The need to secure and protect subsidy funding for the licensed child care sector.
The existing subsidy system is under considerable pressure. As has been discussed in previous blog entries, the system is under funded and has been for many years. Existing waiting lists for subsidy top 15,000 in the City of Toronto alone and per diem rates are anticipated to increase by close to 30% with the introduction of the full day early learning program.
EL6 (see May 24th entry) suggests that the parents of four- and five-year old children currently receiving child care subsidy will take this funding with them when they move to the school based full day early learning program.
Without sufficient additional funding to both replace these spaces with younger children and to recognize the increased cost of delivery, the licensed child care sector may find itself in serious difficulty with rapidly increasing vacancies.
The province wide stabilization fund of $51 million dollars will be phased in gradually over the next five years and appears not to be sufficient to stabilize a current fragile system facing extreme financial pressures.
At the same time, boards of education across the province are indicating that the funds allocated by the Province for the full day early learning program are insufficient to cover all the costs attached to implementing this new initiative.
It is important that in the transition to one Ministry, subsidy funding for the licensed child care sector be protected.
Coordination between licensed child care and other parent support programs and services:
Dr. Charles Pascal will assume a new role as an advisor to the Minister of Children and Youth Services. His role is to advise the Minister on how to move forward with an integrated system of family supports for young children and their families.
Integrating family support programs is an important component of Dr. Pascal's original report With Our Best Future in Mind: Implementing Early Learning in Ontario. Dr. Pascal's appointment suggests a commitment on the part of the province to more fully implement the original recommendations.
It is understandable that preliminary work to develop potential models for integrated Child and Family Centres be undertaken within the confines of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services as this is where the funding and policy direction for the majority of these programs currently resides.
It will be important to determine how this component of a comprehensive system of early learning and care will be integrated with the licensed child care sector, particularly now that they no longer reside in the same ministries.