By Sue Tiffin
Most parents weren’t surprised that daycare centres didn’t open on June 12 the first day they were permitted to by the province as part of the COVID-19 reopening plan local daycare operators said.
“[They] knew that it was an impossible scenario and a few had questions as to timelines but I also had very quickly put out a message to all of our families that we would not be opening on Friday or even next week” said Denise Wolm registered early childhood educator at Wee Care Haliburton.
Since the announcement June 9 child care operators have pushed back saying they heard the announcement at the same time as the rest of the province and were not given adequate time to prepare facilities and re-open programs safely for staff and children – with fines for violating guidelines up to $3000 per child in attendance per day.
“I was shocked and thoroughly disappointed in Premier [Doug] Ford and Minister of Education [Stephen] Lecce” said Wolm. “There was complete and utter lack of respect for the child care field as a whole and the educators in that field. Schools are given months to prepare for everything and even emergency child cares [open during the pandemic] were given three weeks to prepare to open yet they think we can open safely in less than three days. I knew immediately that it couldn’t be done.”
Wolm said that although she has been making some preparations and plans for an eventual re-opening she “wasn’t able to set anything concrete in place” without further regulations from the government noting “we still don’t have all the information we need.”
“I feel that we should have been given some notice to prepare to open and then they could have released a statement that indicates that they had been in contact with daycare operators providing them with a plan for reopening and an aim to open in a three-four week time span maybe” said Wolm.
Guidelines for reopening child care centres were distributed after the announcement by the province and include suggestions for putting additional hygiene protocols and physical distancing in place but also suggestions that child care operators throughout the province have criticized including “avoiding singing activities indoors” “planning activities that do not involve shared objects or toys” avoiding plush toys providing items like playdough for single use available to a child for the day and cleaning and disinfecting toys and equipment “at a minimum between cohorts.”
Wolm said besides these regulations requiring extra time and staff the rules put in place for dropping children off at the door without parents being allowed inside after months of kids being away and isolated from the public are unrealistic and could be frightening for young toddlers.
Kinga Baricz RECE pedagogical lead/culture lead Compass ELC in Minden agreed.
“How can you not sing to a child? How can you not hold a child?” said Baricz. “In this type of field those children need your hugs. They’ve been home for 14 weeks coming back to basically a new environment. These are all changes.”
Last Friday morning Baricz attended a rally held outside Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith’s office alongside approximately 60 other child care and daycare staff and supporters.
“I’ve always felt that we have to stand up for children’s rights because we are the ones that need to advocate they can’t do that especially not the little ones” said Baricz. “I believe that children truly deserve the best. So we need to make sure that environment is set up for success the best we can do with what we have right now based on COVID-19 safety first and a plan in place to make sure this space is the best for the children.”
“We have partnered with the Ontario Coalition for Better Child and the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario to produce an excellent roadmap: From Reopening to Recovery A Plan for Child Care Reopening in Ontario and Moving to a Publicly Funded System” reads a June 9 response from Compass Early Learning and Care which operates the Minden daycare. “However the government has decided to make the decision to reopen with very little notice a lack of consultation by experts and without addressing a retroactive funding decision that has left child care organizations across the province in a deficit position. As a not-for-profit organization this plan leaves us in a precarious situation.”
Compass ELC said that “due to a lack of stable funding and a comprehensive plan for reopening we are unable to open at this time.” The board and senior leadership team planned to meet to develop plans for “a safe reopening.”
On June 12 child care operators in Peterborough which includes Compass ELC signed a letter stating they would not reopen until two conditions were met: “reinstatement of funding to cover all costs during the closure period including staff wages and a base funding model that would cover reopening costs for extra staffing reduced fee income cleaning supplies PPE alternate materials and staff training.”
“It’s not like we don’t want to open absolutely we want to we can hardly wait to see the children it’s just to have that safety first” said Baricz.
On June 13 in a letter posted by Stephen Lecce the minister of education noted a plan was developed with Ontario’s chief medical officer of health and medical experts requiring child care operators to follow strict health protocols by putting measures in place that promote safety of staff children and parents prior to reopening.
“A critical component of this announcement allows for child care facilities to begin preparations for reopening under the new measures and once met they will be permitted to reopen” said Lecce in his letter. “While child care centres can now re-open with strict safety and operational requirements in place we know that many will take additional time. That is understandable and something we expected given the importance of getting this right.”
All child care settings will be required to have a COVID-19 response plan if a child parent or staff member/childcare provider is exposed to COVID-19.
“We are providing child care facilities the flexibility to begin reopening on their own timelines once all of the strict health and safety guidelines have been met” said Lecce.
Lecce’s letter said that “Our plan includes flexible financial support for areas like cleaning and PPE. There is also available funding for enhanced staffing levels as centres reopen. Our direction to operators to maximize all available support under Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan including rent supports that the province is co-contributing enables this approach.”
Child care operators online replied to the letter with complaints of wanting to see the funding before they could believe it was coming.
“My message to parents is that we need to gather information train staff to the new policies and protocols and have all safety measures in place prior to opening” said Wolm. “Our number one priority is safety for everyone so until we have everything in place we will not be opening.”
The government has also enabled summer day camp programs – but not overnight camps – to reopen this summer. According to the Ontario government there are more than 5500 child care centres and 124 licensed home child care agencies across Ontario.