Protect Child Care Spaces in Ontario

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Dear Premier Ford, Mr. Lecce and Ms. Fuller,

Representing the interests of a group of licensed child care operators, Montessori schools and Preschools province-wide who sincerely hope to continue to offer services to our communities, we are writing on behalf of a large and diverse group of parents and families across Ontario, who are at grave risk of losing vital care for their young children once the threat of COVID-19 has passed. We are calling on the provincial government to provide emergency fixed cost relief to support child care operators ordered to stop collecting payments during this mandated period of closure. This support is urgently needed to protect child care spaces and jobs in Ontario. 

On Friday April 10, Ontario's Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, announced an emergency order forbidding daycares from charging parents for services not rendered during the COVID-19 shutdown. This announcement has put many child care operators in an extremely difficult and potentially devastating financial position. Without swift measures to help cover fixed costs and keep businesses afloat during this period, there will be no child care spaces for these children to come back to. 

We are already facing a child care shortage in many communities across the province. There are 8 major Ontario cities (Brampton, Kitchener, Hamilton, Windsor, London, Mississauga, Markham and Toronto) where at least 40% of children are already living in child care deserts, with scarce access to licensed spaces. While we applaud the government's desire to support families during this time, we believe the approach has been misguided. Under the current one-sided scheme that has been proposed, there is a major risk to the security of child care spaces across the province. Without the government support we are asking for, so many child care centres will cease to exist. Our primary function – the very reason we exist – is to serve and support families. We are not saving families anything if we're not protecting child care centres. There are currently 446,596 licensed child care spaces in Ontario, already with waiting lists upwards of 18 to 24 months for a space. If we lose even just 20 percent of those spaces due to business failure, that would mean 90,000 families would be left without child care. What if the number of failed child care businesses was even higher? 50 percent? This would make our existing child care shortage crisis much greater. We are an essential service.

Unfortunately, high quality child care and early childhood education is costly to provide. There are massive overhead costs involved in maintaining businesses like ours; administrative costs, huge commercial rents, infrastructure costs, thousands spent in professional development and education, and many of us carry payrolls well into the millions, preventing us from accessing the easiest and fastest federal relief loans. The wage subsidy enhancement currently in place is there to help protect employees for the time being, but not the businesses that employ them. We are now facing $0 in current revenue and bracing for millions lost in projected revenue for the foreseeable future, all while carrying the same (if not greater) fixed overhead costs. The reality is that this dire position will force many child care providers into bankruptcy very soon. 

All of this is not even to mention the threat to hundreds of jobs in a sector predominantly owned, operated and staffed by women. But our sector is not the only one at risk – how are parents of preschool aged children supposed to return to work if they don’t have a safe place to send their children for care? In order for our communities to bounce back from COVID-19, we must protect child care spaces and ensure these services are firmly in place when the dust settles. We are determined to do all that we can to help child care centres and preschools weather this storm. We must fight to secure access to care and education for a generation of children.