Essential workers kept waiting for promised daycares

Essential workers including doctors, nurses, police and paramedics say they're still waiting for the City of Ottawa to open emergency child-care centres promised by the province back on March 22.

Ottawa lagging behind other Ontario cities in delivering on provincial pledge

Kerianne Boulva, a surgical oncology fellow at The Ottawa Hospital, is waiting for the City of Ottawa to set up emergency daycare centres for essential workers including doctors, nurses, paramedics and police officers. (Submitted)

Between surgeries at The Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Kerianne Boulva is trying to figure out how she and her husband can do their jobs and look after their two-and-a-half-year-old son. 

Boulva, a surgical oncology fellow at the hospital, had thought an emergency daycare plan for essential workers was imminent after the province announced on March 22 the facilities would be open by the end of that week.

Now, 12 days later, police officers, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, government of Ontario employees and doctors like Boulva are still waiting to hear about any kind of plan. 

"Ever since that has been announced there essentially hasn't been anything made available in the Ottawa region, so it's been a little bit disappointing," Boulva said. 

CBC has put requests in to the city for answers almost daily since March 23. The repeated response is that the city is "actively working on establishing child care centres for essential workers," but no details have been provided.

Open in other cities

Emergency daycare centres have opened in several Ontario cities including Toronto, Cornwall and Peterborough, according to this list published by the province

"When I tried to call the City of Ottawa's children's services branch, no one answers. So it's not super encouraging, and we don't know how long this is going to go on," Boulva said.

If and when the emergency daycare centres do open up, she and other essential workers have questions about how they'll operate — the ratios and other protocols put in place to keep kids, staff and families safe, especially when it comes to the children of health-care workers who have potential exposure to COVID-19. 

A playground in Ottawa's Dundonald Park sits empty. All parks and playgrounds in the city are off limits in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. (Francis Ferland/CBC )

ER doctor felt 'like a leper'

Dr. Lesley Spencer, an emergency room doctor who works in hospitals in Kemptville and Smiths Falls, Ont., has been scrambling to arrange care for her two kids, ages six and two. 

When schools and daycare centres first closed, Spencer's mother-in-law was watching the children, but that was putting her at risk. 

"We heard about the health-care daycares that were supposed to open, but honestly that just sounds like everybody who's [at] high risk of contracting [COVID-19] sending all their undiagnosed children to the same place and then everybody getting it," Spencer said. 

Lesley Spencer, an ER doctor in Smiths Falls and Kemptville, Ont., says it's vital that essential workers including grocery store employees have access to affordable daycare during the pandemic. (Submitted)

She and her husband decided to look for a nanny to come into their home, but she said as soon as she told potential sitters she's an ER doctor, they weren't interested in taking the job. 

"I kind of felt a bit like a leper," Spencer said. 

She eventually did find someone to look after her kids, but Spencer knows not everyone can afford that option, and she's concerned about other essential workers who are still without child care.

"The grocery store workers, they're making what, 15, maybe 20 bucks an hour?" she said. "There needs to be that kind of centre, and if it's not heavily, heavily subsidized or free, then it's useless."


Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On found at: You can reach her at

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