Ottawa

City forges plan to add spaces in child-care 'deserts'

Parents looking for licenced child care spots in rural Ottawa and the south end have a harder time than downtown or Kanata, and now the city is making it a priority to close those gaps.

Funding cut by Ontario government could hamper Ottawa's follow-through

The City of Ottawa wants to improve access to licensed child care, especially in underserved neighbourhoods in the south end and on the rural fringes of the city. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Parents looking for licensed child-care spots in rural Ottawa and the south end have a harder time than parents downtown or in Kanata, and now the city is making it a priority to address that discrepancy.

A city committee endorsed a four-year strategy to make child care more accessible and affordable last week, while acknowledging that funding cuts by the Doug Ford government could hamper the city's administrative ability to follow through.

The report by city staff points out Ottawa managed to add licensed spaces faster than children in recent years because of changes made by the Ontario government under Kathleen Wynne, the previous premier.

Nearly 9,000 more licensed child-care spaces were created in Ottawa from 2013 to 2018, bringing the total to 44,000 spaces for children under 12 — or one for every three kids.

But that still falls short of Ottawa's goal of having a licensed space for two of every five children.

Infants, Indigenous children and those needing only part-time care have less access to spots, the report found, and certain parts of the city are underserved compared to others.

For instance, the southern part of Ottawa would need 1,034 additional child-care spaces to hit the current target.

When it comes to infants, toddlers and preschoolers, only central and western regions of Ottawa reach the city's goal of having a licensed child-care spot for two of every five children. The southern part of the city would need 1,034 extra spaces to hit that target. (City of Ottawa)

Always this way

A  2018 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives concluded that a quarter of Ottawa children find themselves living in a "child-care desert."

The rural community of Greely, for instance, had no licenced spaces, the think-tank found.

Kanata and the downtown have historically had more daycare centres, according to Deborah Thompson of the Children's Village of Ottawa-Carleton.

"The rural areas are difficult for parents. There's a lack of options. There are fewer facilities," said Thompson.

Thompson's agency is opening a sixth daycare centre inside a Findlay Creek school, and she says Ontario's move to full-day kindergarten and before-and-after daycare has worked out well.

Still, Thompson said it can be hard to find the commercial space to open a daycare in growing suburbs like Barrhaven. She said she hopes the city can help child-care operators pinpoint where spaces are most needed.

Infant care affordable … if you make $200K

While location matters, the city is also prioritizing making child care more affordable for parents in the coming years.

Child care for an infant younger than 18 months in a licensed Ottawa centre, for instance, now costs an average of $19,732 per year.

A consultant's report for the Ontario government suggested that child care should only be considered affordable if it represents 10 per cent of a family's after-tax income.

That would make infant daycare affordable only to households that take in $200,000 after tax.

It is unaffordable to have young kids in 2019.- Coun. Mathieu Fleury

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury was one of the councillors who approved Ottawa's four-year child care plan at a community and protective services meeting last Thursday.

Fleury said he and his wife would like to have a second child, but that would push their daycare bill beyond $3,000 per month.

He and other councillors say they want to keep pressure on the Ontario government to make child care more affordable.

"I'm living it first-hand. It is unaffordable to have young kids in 2019," Fleury said.

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