London

Free child care at city hall meetings? Staff are giving it a try

It's been almost four years in the making, but City of London staff are putting the final touches on a pilot project that will provide free child-minding services for parents attending some public participation meetings at city hall.

Parents attending public participation meetings will be able to drop off their kids

Some time before summer, parents attending public participation meetings at city hall will be able to drop off their kids in a child-minding room provided by the city. The service is part of a 12-month pilot project. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

It's been almost four years in the making, but City of London staff are putting the final touches on a pilot project to provide a free child-minding service for parents attending public participation meetings at city hall. 

City Clerk Cathy Saunders said a committee room on the second floor has been made child safe for the project and a contract with a third-party childcare service is almost finalized. 

"We're in the final stages of it and we should have it in place by the summer," said Saunders.

The service will be available to parents of young children attending public participation meetings at city hall that happen inside any of the city's five standing committees (Civic Works, Community and Protective Services, Corporate Services, Planning and Environment and Strategic Planning and Priorities).

The city won't provide the service for other meetings, including regular council meetings and public meetings that happen outside of city hall. 

The children will be supervised by employees of a third-party service provider, who will come with games and toys to keep the kids entertained while their parents attend the meeting. 

The service is a 12-month pilot project. After a year, staff will circle back and assess how well it's working and whether its use justifies the annual cost to the city, which was pegged at about $20,000 in a staff report written in 2016. 

The service may also be unique in Canada. The 2016 staff report scanned 13 large and mid-size cities and found none that were offering a similar service. 

The idea for the service came from a 2015 request to staff from former councillor Virginia Ridley, who represented Ward 10 before being defeated in last fall's election. 

Removes barrier for parents

Saunders said the project is an attempt to allow parents to attend public meetings without having to hire a babysitter.

 "They saw it as a potential barrier and thought that by offering a child-minding service, it may reduce or remove that barrier," she said.

The staff report says committee meetings can run as long as eight hours, though the average time is three and a half hours. 

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