New Ontario rules change what summer camps kids under 4 can attend

Thousands of parents may have to re-evaluate their summer child-care plans because of a new Ontario regulation that says children must be at least four years old before they can attend summer day camps without early childhood educators.

Camps for younger children must provide space for nap time, give staff more training

Children under four will now only be able to attend summer camps where there are early childhood educators and suitable nap time space. (CBC)

Thousands of parents may have to re-evaluate their summer child-care plans because of a new Ontario regulation that says children must be at least four years old before they can attend summer day camps without early childhood educators.

The provincial government's new age cutoff came into effect at the end of last summer as part of Ontario's push to tighten rules surrounding unlicensed child-care facilities.

The province said it's trying to phase the changes in slowly, but it's already frustrating some parents who are trying to plan for summer. 

"You have so many questions you're just so shocked," said Sara Fox, whose three-year-old daughter was set to attend an unlicensed camp this summer.

Fox said the rule changes, which are included in the province's Child Care and Early Years Act, are limiting her options.

"Because of these new laws in place, all of the sudden she can't go to that camp. She can't go to 43 other camps," Fox said.

Eric Shendleman, who has been a camp director for over 20 years and serves as the standards chair of the Ontario Camps Association, is urging the Ministry of Education to change its plans.  

"Camps for decades have been very safe," he said.

"We'd really like to see the ministry understand that camp for children under four is a positive, fun, safe enriching experience."

Shendleman said he's optimistic a compromise can be reached before the registration deadline in February. 

Need to upgrade facilities

Camps that want to host children under four will need to give their staff early childhood education training and will also need to upgrade facilities so there's a suitable space for nap times.

A spokesperson with Ontario's Ministry of Education said the move is all about safety.

"Younger children are a more vulnerable population and we want to do everything we can to keep all kids safe," May Nazar said in an email to CBC News.

Nazar said the government is taking a "phased approach" to introducing further regulatory changes and has been working with municipalities and camp providers like the YMCA to make sure they're aware of the new rules.

Children over four can attend the same camps as before. 

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