There are some positive measures in the Ontario Government’s 2016 Budget, but higher quality, healthier and safer child care are not among them.
Ontario’s 2016 Budget states that “High-quality child care and a world-class primary and secondary education enrich the lives of children and their families. They also foster communities of engaged and caring participants.”
The Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario (AECEO) agrees with the above statement, and expected to see evidence of the government’s support for its own assertion within the Budget. However, any evidence of a commitment to “high-quality child care” was sorely lacking in the document released on February 25.
The Budget references previously announced, and much needed, wage grant funding for child care staff but does not mention expanded or ongoing wage supports for the workforce after 2016, nor does it offer a plan for the development of a comprehensive workforce strategy for the future. Commitment to a long term strategy would be evidence of genuine interest in “high-quality” as it would address the systemic issues of low wages, inconsistent working conditions, high turnover, and job dissatisfaction that plague early childhood education and care in Ontario.
Without a comprehensive and modernized economic approach that recognizes and supports the work of all ECEs, including ECEs who work in areas of Ontario that are not the “high demand” areas per se, but are the steady, consistent – yet often under-considered - rural and remote areas; and including ECEs who will be employed by the newly announced amalgamated Ontario Early Years Child and Family Centres, we will continue to see qualified and talented professionals leave the field.
Another questionable claim in the Budget is “The government is also taking steps to more quickly address urgent issues in support of quality, health and safety in a licensed child care environment, and is setting higher standards for the health and safety of children.”
This statement appears to be in reference to the Ministry of Education’s recent regulatory posting 137/15 under the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014. The AECEO’s initial review and child care sector consultations on the proposed changes suggest that while the requirement in the proposed regulation for additional qualified staff is very positive, and to be applauded, the improvement to quality and safety through that measure is outweighed by the proposed changes to age ranges, ratios and group sizes. How is it that the province, on the one hand, has developed an emerging framework of child care and early years strategies that is built on the solid foundation of empirical evidence showing the strength of the relationship between quality early childhood education and child, family and social outcomes; and yet, when it came time to finance these strategies, the province regressed to an all too timeworn (and frankly, passé!) era of just do more with less.
With a new federal government in Ottawa that has committed to working with provinces, territories and Indigenous communities on a new National Early Learning and Child Care Framework, now is the time for the Province to take bold action to fully fund a high quality child care and early learning system in Ontario.