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Plans to Introduce Full-Day Kindergarten as it's too Difficult to Strengthen the Childcare Sector to Give Children a Stronger Start to School

A childcare modernisation plan to enable higher-quality, consistent educational services to support growth in the future, linked in or located with schools has received mixed reviews.  

Ottawa, August 2012 - The provincial government wants to modernize Ontario's childcare system, but some are questioning whether the plans outlined in a recent discussion paper go far enough.

Early learning in Ontario is undergoing a huge transformation, starting with the introduction of full-day kindergarten, says the 16-page paper, which was quietly posted on the Ministry of Education's website at the end of June.

While the vision behind full-day kindergarten was to give children a stronger start in school, the current focus on childcare recognizes the key role it plays in promoting healthy development during the most critical years of a child's life.

However, it's difficult to strengthen the childcare sector when money's tight in Ontario, the paper warns, noting it's not about expanding the current system, but about "transforming (it) to enable higher-quality, consistent services that can support growth in the future."

The province says it needs a childcare plan in sync with its $C1.5-billion kindergarten initiative, which focuses on locating programmes in or linked with schools to enhance seamlessness for children and families.

However, a comprehensive vision for early learning and care for children 0-12 was already laid out in 2009, when Charles Pascal, the Premier's Special Advisor on Early Learning, tabled his report, With Our Best Future In Mind.

Pascal conducted dozens of roundtable discussions province-wide, received more than 2,300 submissions and talked to just about every stakeholder imaginable: from parents and people working on the front lines of the childcare and education sectors to municipal, school board and First Nations leaders.

He summed up what he heard concisely on the report's fourth page: "The current fragmented patchwork of early childhood services too often fails the best interests of our children, frustrates families and educators, and wastes resources."

In the latest paper - which sets out a three-year time-line - the province pledges to introduce a new funding formula, make capital investments to help operators adapt programmes to suit younger children, develop mandatory programme guidelines for childcare operators and update the Day Nurseries Act, which hasn't been reviewed for almost 30 years.

That's not good enough, some industry insiders maintain.

"We're glad they've come out with a discussion paper, but we're disappointed it doesn't have a long-term plan that will build a system," said Shellie Bird, a Canadian Union of Public Employees representative for more than 300 unionized childcare workers in Ottawa.

There's no commitment to support the non-profit childcare sector and no clear sign the province views childcare as an extension of education, even though the day-to-day management of the file has been moved from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to the Ministry of Education, Bird said.

She also fears the cash-strapped province will allow private, for-profit childcare operators pick up the slack in terms of creating new spaces, which is why the union and others are calling for a moratorium on the licensing of new private childcare centres.

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