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Scarborough could see high loss of subsidized child care spaces

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Author: 
Adler, Mike
Publication Date: 
1 Sep 2011

 

EXCERPTS

The five Scarborough councillors in Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's inner circle, his executive committee, will be the first to hear on Sept. 19 what might be done to cut a tenth of the city's child-care budget.

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Of 2,700 subsidy spaces the city could cut next year, 803 are in Scarborough.

And while wards in the centre of city would lose as few as 15 spaces according to calculations released this summer, Michelle Berardinetti's Scarborough Southwest ward would see 115 cut, the city's second-highest loss. Scarborough East Councillor Paul Ainslie, another executive committee member, would lose 102 spaces.

In June, councillors saw the anguish those cuts could produce when Progress Day Care, with 90 subsidized spaces, announced it would close without immediate help from the city.

Parents and staff rallying around the Kennedy Road facility, which survived, said removing the coveted subsidy spaces - the wait list across Toronto has more than 20,000 names - from their Glamorgan neighbourhood meant women at work or in school would be forced back to social assistance at home.

The "trickle-down negative implication" for the city are obvious to Michael Thompson, also on the executive committee, who said the possible loss of 97 spaces in his ward weighs heavily on his mind.

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Ford put the North York councillor in charge of a task force (its members still not announced) with a "wide open" mandate to find "what can be done to make child care sustainable" in Toronto.

He said that could mean more involvement by for-profit companies, regulatory changes allowing "more flexibility while not affecting child care quality" and other ways to save.

Consultants KPMG have said the city could cut back on inspections and sell the 55 day cares it directly runs (13 of them in Scarborough, with another, Chester Le, set to open this fall) to the private sector.

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The cuts would come when not-for-profit child care operators in Scarborough are already in turmoil. The province's move towards universal junior kindergarten is a boon to many, but will remove the bulk of children, four or five-year-old pre-schoolers, at local child cares.

Centres are only licensed to take so many younger children - infants and toddlers - which the law says require more space and staff.

Adding subsidy space cuts to that challenge spells trouble for the six Scarborough non-profits in Dan Marcoux's Not Your Average Daycare (NYAD) group. One, at Kennedy and Eglinton Avenue, is 85 per cent subsidy spaces. Paying families, Marcoux suggested, can't subsidize the low-income families on their own.

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Child-care advocates say lower pay for staff at for-profit centres, which Marcoux said make up the majority of spaces in Scarborough, lead to higher staff turnover instead of a stable environment where children do best.

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Soo Wong, Liberal candidate in Scarborough-Agincourt, said that funding has grown by 50 per cent since 2003, and because of this, about 9,000 more Toronto children receive subsidies and 8,500 new licensed child-care spaces were created.

"We understand that in a growing city like Toronto, there is a growing need for child care spaces and we will continue to work with the city to ensure that parents have access to affordable, high-quality child care," Wong added in a statement Wednesday.

But Nerissa Carino, New Democratic candidate in Pickering-Scarborough East, said the number of child care spaces - about one for every five children - still isn't enough. The party will soon reveal a policy platform, she said, committing the NDP to help child cares retain qualified staff, prevent fee hikes, and set "timelines to make quality child care available to all Ontario families."

Attempts to reach a local Progressive Conservative candidate for comment this week were not successful.

Mary Anne Chambers, a former Scarborough MPP who was minister responsible for children's services, said the province, city and federal government must all do more, and see child care as a priority they put ahead of politics.

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People like paying less in taxes, but should ask themselves what cutting child care costs in the long run, said Chambers, president of a charity called PACE which supports early childhood education in Jamaica.

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Entered Date: 
14 Sep 2011
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