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Ontario government loosens child-care rules, raising safety concerns

Ontario government loosens child-care rules, raising safety concerns
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The government is easing daycare age ratios for the province’s youngest children — loosening restrictions that were introduced five years ago after a number of baby deaths .

The move raised alarms among child-care advocates as well as the opposition at Queen’s Park, who say kids’ safety is at stake.

Eva Ravikovich died at an unlicensed daycare in Vaughan in 2013. She was 2 years old. Advocates worry that the Ford government’s changes to child care in Ontario will put children at risk. The changes, part of an ominbus bill, were introduced Dec. 6, 2018.

“Any time you water down the ratios of children — and particularly toddlers, who need a lot of attention — you risk putting kids in a situation where they may not have the amount of adult supervision that they require,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

“Let’s not forget — we’ve had some horrifying situations happen in our province where private daycare providers that were not licensed were putting kids at risk, and where children actually died ,” she said.

“That should not be happening in our province and we should not be watering down any regulation that has to do with the safety of the most vulnerable amongst us, which is our children.”

Under the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, the province plans to allow a home child-care operator to supervise three children under age 2 — up from the current two.

It also will allow two providers to look after six infants or toddlers at a time, up from the current maximum of four, with the rules applying to both licensed and unlicensed caregivers.

As well, providers won’t have to count their own children toward the total number of kids in care as soon as they turn 4. Currently, the age limit is 6 years.

The changes are part of an omnibus bill introduced Thursday that is designed to cut red tape for businesses — everything from posting workplace safety signs to restrictions on wireless phone providers that could lead to higher bills for cellphone users.

MPP Kathleen Wynne said under her previous Liberal government, reforms to the daycare sector were made after extensive consultations with providers and experts and “were all designed to create a safer, more enriched environment for kids.”

The former premier wondered what is behind the child-care revisions in the bill, which came as a surprise on Thursday.

“There haven’t been any consultations on those kinds of changes,” added Wynne. “There hasn’t been any discussion on why we would want to loosen the regulations when what we are trying to do is create more systematic and safer” care.

“It feels like it’s going in exactly the opposite direction than we should be going, as more and more people need child care and need to rely on the rules to keep kids safe,” she said.

Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coaltion for Better Child Care Child Care said the sector is scrambling to understand the impact.

“They are deregulating. They are trying to do child care on the cheap,” Ferns said. “They put it in this huge omnibus bill on the last day. It’s cut and run.”

Ferns was particularly alarmed about changes that would allow two caregivers to look after six babies, six other children as well as their own kids.

“It’s like running a mini-child care centre out of a home with nowhere near the type of oversight that a child-care program would have,” she said. “It’s letting home child care go wild.”

“When do we get to a point where it’s just not safe,” she added. “I don’t care how many adults you have in there. How many kids are you going to squeeze into a house?”

New Democrat MPP Doly Begum, her party’s child-care critic, said such a move could lead to “scary ratios.”

The early years are crucial when it comes to brain development, “and I’m not sure what this would mean in terms of care, in terms of learning … we have to be careful of how we implement those policies,” said Begum.

“I am all for creating more space for children, I’m all for giving people a chance to earn more money,” added the MPP for Scarborough Southwest. “But they are not really increasing the amount of people taking care of our babies — all they are saying is ‘hey, you are taking care of two, now you can take care of three.’ ”

Child-care expert Martha Friendly called the proposed changes “disgusting.”

“Am I surprised? I am shocked,” she said. “This is making regulated care less safe. No other government in Ontario has gutted child-care regulations in this way.”

In a memo to operators, Education Minister Lisa Thompson said “the people of Ontario gave our government a clear mandate to make life easier for families all across this province.

“... I believe that a strong child care and early years system plays a key role in helping families raise their children. Quality programs allow parents to pursue their career goals while simultaneously giving their children benefits to help them better prepare for school and for life.”

She said the changes will cut red tape, improve quality, and also help families better afford child care and give them more options.

Thompson noted that the age changes “better align the child care and early years system with schools, and reflect the fact that children in Ontario are eligible to attend kindergarten in the year that they turn 4 years old.”

But Begum said removing the requirement for third-party operators running after-school programs for kindergarten students in schools to have early childhood educators means kids could be supervised by untrained adults.

Thursday’s announcement comes on the heels of the Ford government’s move last summer to .
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