Kenora-Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell is aware of concerns locally—from both parents and child-care providers—about Bill 143 (the Child Care Modernization Act), which currently is in second reading.
“I’m listening to a lot of parents,” noted Campbell.
“But I’m also hearing from child-care providers from Kenora-Rainy River, and specifically Fort Frances, who have some real concerns about the bill.
“I don’t think anyone in this province will dispute the fact that we desperately need to ensure that we have better protection for children receiving care,” Campbell said.
“We’ve had four children who have died in unlicensed care over the past several months.
“But on the other hand, we also have to look at it from the perspective of parents,” she remarked.
“Children care is one of the most significant pressures facing young families and a lot of parents are concerned about the availability of care, the high costs associated with care, and the safety of their children.”
Campbell added another important perspective is that of people who actually provide the care.
“There are some very real concerns of people who are providing care that this bill, if it were passed, will put them out of business,” she noted.
Jeanna Wilson is one local child-care provider who has voiced her concerns about the proposed changes associated with Bill 143.
She said one of the changes would see any of the provider’s own children under the age of six included in the maximum number of children they are allowed to care for.
A provider’s own children currently are not included in the total.
“My [five-year-old] son goes to school every day and gets off the bus at 3:30 p.m.,” Wilson explained.
“I would have to get rid of one of the kids that I care for so I can count him.
“And he’s only there with the other children for half-an-hour,” she stressed.
Under the proposed bill, unlicensed providers (which locally are any independent home child-care providers) will be allowed a maximum of five children under the age of 13, including their own children under the age of six.
And of those five children, only two can be under two.
Other local providers have mentioned this as a concern since with children now starting school as early as age three-and-a-half, this leaves providers with the three-and-under age group.
“It will reduce home day care spots, not increase them,” warned local child-care provider Dawn Gray.
She noted it will affect families in many ways, such as forcing providers to charge higher rates.
And most likely will be unable to accept any children on a part-time basis because they will want to fill their limited spots with full-time children.
Bill 143 is meant to encouraged unlicensed providers to become licensed—offering an extra space to those who do so.
But with a long list of requirements, some know they wouldn’t be approved for licensing.
Campbell agreed there are many shortfalls with Bill 143 as it currently stands.
“This bill does not create anymore spaces,” she said.
“It also doesn’t impose any new duties on the minister, so there is no child-care funding, and it really doesn’t interpret the safety piece,” she added.
It also doesn’t ensure there are adequate numbers of inspectors, noted Campbell.
“I want to stress that already we have huge wait lists, especially in the north, and we already have providers who are providing care to more than six children,” she remarked.
“They recognize that is not a safe level; on the other hand, the demand is so high.”
Campbell said her focus right now is to hear from people in Kenora-Rainy River.
“We know that our reality of the northwest doesn’t necessarily mirror that of the reality in Toronto,” she reasoned.
“We’ve got an already-strained system and no one is disputing the fact that we want to make sure that we have safe child care,” she noted.
“But if safety is one of the main concerns of the ministry, they also need to back that up and need to make sure we have adequate numbers of inspectors.
“There are some other things included in this legislation that may not have to do with safety so much, but could make it prohibitive for current providers to continue to provide care,” she added.
Campbell did note there are some good measures in the bill.
“There’s a duty to disclose unlicensed status, which I think is supportable,” she remarked.
“Also, some past conduct prohibitions, so it prohibits individuals from providing care if they have been convicted of offences.
“These are good things, but where are the inspectors?” Campbell asked.
“I think it’s the duty and the obligation of the provincial government to make sure that we have more spaces and that it is affordable for people.”
Campbell encourages anyone with concerns about Bill 143 to contact her.
“It’s difficult for me to know the ins and outs of what’s happening on the ground,” she explained.
“I don’t think people necessarily realize just how much I rely on their feedback.”
People can reach Campbell in a number of ways, including via Facebook, fax, e-mail, or a letter.
“Whatever avenue people feel they are most comfortable with,” she said.
“I promise I won’t read out their stories in legislature unless I get their permission,” Campbell pledged.
“But it’s important for me to weave in these perspectives.”