Toy lending libraries across district to close

Peggy Revell

Toy lending libraries services provided by “Best Start” hubs across Rainy River District will cease to exist as of September.
This change comes two years after the Ministry of Children and Youth Services re-did the service contract for “Best Start” hubs—and toy lending libraries were excluded from this, explained Mildred Beck, children’s services manager with the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board.
“The ministry wanted the ‘Best Start’ hub co-ordinators to focus more on direct programming for children and whatnot, and not so much on spending their time on lending out toys,” she said, noting the move follows the earlier phasing out of informal child care in 2009.
“That is not to say that [hubs] will not be [providing] toys and whatnot for families to use when they are at the centre receiving programs,” Beck stressed.
“It’s just the actual ‘come in and pick a toy off the shelf and sign it out and take it away’—that’s the portion that the hub co-ordinators are no longer allowed to do, and we’re not funding them for it under our current service contract.”
Beck did say health and safety items will remain available for loan to families.
If a non-profit organization/volunteers want to take over running the toy library, Beck said they can contact the individual “Best Start” hub co-ordinator in their community for more information.
“What we’re working on right now is we’re just getting everybody to return their toys by the end of the month,” noted Phyllis Kellar of the Fort Frances Children’s Complex and “Best Start” hub here.
“When we get that all in, that inventory back, then we’re going to do an inventory of what we’re going to keep at the ‘Best Start’ hub here and what we’re going to use in our outreach sites,” she explained.
Kellar said the local “Best Start” hub is looking to expand more into different outreach sites and places interested in having the hub into their facilities, with local schools a “priority right now.”
Once the inventory of all the toys is complete, “then we’ll probably be writing letters to different organizations and different facilities asking if they’re interested in taking this over,” Kellar added.
“But of course, if they’re taking it over, it’s going to be on a volunteer basis, and there’s no funds to pay somebody to do it,” she stressed.
While the toy lending library part will be gone, Kellar noted the Fort Frances “Best Start” hub will continue to lend families items that are specified as health and safety items, mainly equipment for young babies like high chairs, playpens, and exersaucers.
Children’s books related to “life-changing events,” such as death and divorce, as well as parent caregiver resources for child rearing, also still will be available for lending.
“It’s up to each individual site to decide how they will modify the service in conjunction with their new service description schedule, and what they’ll do with their surplus toys after they determine their inventory that they’re keeping,” said Beck, noting one possibility for surplus toys could be their donation to other organizations that offer children’s services.
Stratton’s “Best Start” hub already had started to phase out its toy library since they weren’t doing much toy lending anyways, she added.
“This wasn’t a total surprise,” Beck remarked, saying the local providers knew the toy lending libraries had been phased out of the contract.
“Because we managed to be creative and hang on to it for another year,” Beck said there had been some hope among providers that it would continue on.
But with the implementation of the early learning program and changes to children’s services, Beck added the ministry was “quite adamant” that the toy libraries be phased out.
“All ‘Best Start’ hubs in the region are no longer responsible for providing toy lending, but are working with partner agencies to ensure that the service exists in their communities,” stated Ministry of Child and Youth Services spokesperson Peter Spadoni.
This phased-in approach is occurring, or has occurred, in all other parts of the northern region, he noted.
“When Family Resource Programs and Ontario Early Years Centres became ‘Best Start’ hubs in response to the government’s ‘Best Start’ initiative, they took on additional roles and responsibilities with respect to early identification, early intervention programs, co-ordination and brokering of services for the early years’ population,” Spadoni explained.
“In order for ‘Best Start’ hubs to take on this larger role, the toy lending libraries were removed from their service descriptions in their contracts with the northern region,” he added, though reiterating the hubs have been asked to “work with community partners” to ensure the libraries still exist as a service.