While York Region is preparing to administer funding for $10-per-day child care, some Ontario operators are expressing hesitancy over how the process is getting carried out.
The region is accepting "expressions of interest" for child care operators who want to opt in for the new Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care System. In Ontario, the province is funding municipalities to enact the system, with neighbours like the City of Toronto also starting the process.
As of July 4, only 34 operators have opted in, out of approximately 500 licensed child care sites in the region.
Some operators are concerned about the agreements they must sign to get funding, said Association of Day Care Operators of Ontario executive director Andrea Hannen, adding there is apprehension over possible conditions.
“Nobody wants to charge parents more,” she said, “but based on the information the centres have seen, it seems like a huge, huge risk for a lot of them … Municipalities are trying to negotiate with every licensed centre separately. That leaves a lot of room for playing favourites and picking winners and losers in local communities.”
The region said it would hold virtual meetings with operators, as needed, to answer questions leading up to the Sept. 1 deadline.
The province has set a goal of ramping up to an average of $10-per-day child care by September 2025 through a new agreement with the federal government. To achieve this, municipalities will be handling applications from operators within their communities that are required by Sept. 1.
York Region’s website indicates that once an operator opts in, its staff will review and send an agreement. An operator can then approve or decline the contract and notify parents.
"York Region is committed to working with federal and provincial partners, as well as child care operators to make child care affordable for all families," the region said.
In a presentation to operators in June, York Region said the agreement would come with an "expanded accountability framework," which would include ensuring operator expenditures are "reasonable," review of annual audited financial statements and conducting random audits of sites annually.
The process is creating uncertainty, with operators feeling differently about the process based on municipal relationships, Hannen said. She added that some operators are worried about the provincial guidelines for the funding.
“It seems like there’s a lot of micro-management of budgets that are part and parcel for participating in the program. That’s not necessarily how the program needs to work,” she said. “That’s a big risk.”
Hannen said that the timeline is not “realistic.”
“They’re being asked to make a decision on whether or not they want to take a chance on a completely new program that radically alters how they do business,” she said, adding more time could improve participation in the program.
The uncertainty could stand to limit how many operators sign-on, she said, adding residents should not expect that every operator will want to take part given concerns about financial impact.
“A lot of centres will say no just because they’re feeling too rushed,” she said. “Most centres would love to be able to only charge parents only $10 per day."