'A wake-up call': Advocates call on Ontario to add daycare spaces after FAO warns of shortage

Parents and advocates are calling on Ontario to expand child-care services after Ontario's Financial Accountability Office warned "significant excess demand" for the $10-a-day program will exceed the number of available spaces.

227,000 children could be without child-care spaces by 2026, financial watchdog warns

Bibian Aguirre, pictured here with her two daughters, says she has child-care spaces lined up for her kids in January at a daycare that has opted into the $10-a-day child care. But she says she's not sure when she'll see the savings from the program. (Submitted by Bibian Aguirre)

Bibian Aguirre signed up for a wait list for a child-care centre in Toronto while she was pregnant with her daughter, worried that she might not be able to get a spot.

The mother of two says she was told it would be "next to impossible" to find a place for her now 15-month-old daughter at a daycare centre in January 2023.

Aguirre finally did find those daycare spaces starting in January at a centre that has opted into the $10-a-day child-care program. But she says she's unsure when those reduced fees will be kicking in. Until then, she still has to pay $1,800 per month for her youngest child, in addition to $800 a month for her four-year-old daughter, who requires before and after care during the school year.

"Daycare expenses can make up to half of our income," Aguirre said. "My concern is that they do it fast, [so] everyone will be able to benefit from the program."

The national program that the province signed onto will see fees lowered to an average of $10 a day by 2025. Aguirre is just one of many Toronto parents hoping it will help them afford child-care in the city. However, in a new report released Monday on the Ford government's spending plan, the province's financial watchdog estimates that Ontario will not be able to meet the demand for child-care spaces.

Ontario extended the deadline for child-care centres to join the $10-a-day program was extended from Sept.1 to Nov. 1.  About 92 per cent of licensed child-care operators in the province have opted into the program, according to the education ministry.

Part of the agreement saw Ontario commit to 86,000 new child-care spaces by the end of 2026, and the government says 33,000 have already been created. But even if that target is met, Ontario's Financial Accountability Office said in its report that "significant excess demand" for the $10-a day program will exceed the number of available spaces.

Ontario's Financial Accountability Office says 'significant excess demand' for the $10-a-day program will exceed the number of available spaces by 2026. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"The FAO estimates that by 2026, Ontario families of approximately 602,257 children under age six will wish to have access to $10-a-day child care," the report reads.

"With only 375,111 $10-a-day licensed child care spaces planned, the families of 227,146 children under age six ... would be left wanting but unable to access $10-a-day child care."

Shortage of child educators, daycare workers

In wake of the report, child-care advocates said the projections only underscore the urgent need for spaces.

"It provides a bit of a wake-up call that we really do need to expand child-care spaces more quickly," said Carolyn Ferns, public policy coordinator for the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.

Ferns said she hopes the report will prompt the the province to start consultations on how to expand the program.

"You can build the bricks and mortar, but that's not child care. Child care is really child educators and child-care workers, and in Ontario right now we have a shortage of both."

The FAO said its estimate is based on pre-pandemic Statistics Canada data on how many families were not accessing child care because it was too expensive or they couldn't find a space, as well as looking at how many kids are still cared for at home in Quebec where fees are subsidized.

"We always knew that there was going to be incredible demand for child care," said Rachel Vickerson, executive director of the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario.

Children playing at a daycare.
A spokesperson for Karina Gould, the federal minister for families, children and social development, says the province should dip into its own pockets to expand the number of child-care spaces. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Vickerson said the biggest issue is the lack of a plan to raise wages and enhance working conditions in the sector.

"There is not a real workforce strategy that includes decent work and pay for early childhood educators and the workforce," Vickerson said. 

"And without this expansion, it's going to be impossible."

'We know more needs to be done,' ministry says 

The province is planning to implement a growth plan to ensure new child-care spaces go to areas with the highest need, but is still awaiting details from the federal government on additional funds promised for creating new spaces, according to a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

"We also know that more needs to be done," said Grace Lee in an email.

"That's why our deal with the federal government was contingent on $1 billion to build additional spaces across all provinces."

Parents whose children attend a licensed child-care setting that has opted in to the program are set to receive rebates of up to 25 per cent of the fees they paid since April 1 and a further fee reduction of 50 per cent, on average, by the end of the year. 

A spokesperson for Karina Gould, the federal minister of families, children and social development, said the province should dip into its own pocket, if necessary, to pay for more child-care spaces.

"There is nothing in our agreement stopping the government of Ontario from putting forward provincial funds, supplementing the federal investment, to further grow its system for the benefit of its citizens and their children," Mohammad Hussain wrote in a statement.

"This has been done by other provinces and territories. We certainly encourage Ontario to direct any additional resources it deems necessary toward this critical priority."

With files from The Canadian Press


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