EDITOR’S NOTE: Since October, at least three long-standing daycare facilities in Ottawa have shut down: Mini Muffins in Kanata, Tupper Tots in Nepean, and St. Elias Child Care and Family Resource Centre in Mooney’s Bay.
The exact reasons behind each closure is different, but a common thread is the recent introduction of all-day kindergarten (ADK) into Ontario schools. ADK has syphoned 3-, 4- and 5- year olds away from private and public daycare facilities and into the school system. Many daycare centres have been struggling to cope with the loss of clientele, because fees from older children help offset the cost of care for infants and toddlers, which is much more labour-expensive to provide.
Tamara Brown owns three Brown Bear Day Care facilities in Stittsville. In She says that ADK is just one of several major changes in policy that is affecting local daycare centres. Other challenges include new provincial licensing standards, and different rules for non-profit vs. private centres in how funding and subsidies are allocated.
We’d like to hear from other parents and childcare providers about their experiences with daycare, and how the various changes are affecting you. You can email us at email@example.com or add your comments below.
Photos by Barry Gray.
GG: Tell me about Brown Bear
TAMARA BROWN: We opened in September of 2006. We have three locations. Two on Main Street and one on Carp Road. Our first one was at 1572 Stittsville Main Street at 1572 . The first one was well-received by the community and then we opened up Carp Road as the second centre within a year of the first in September 2007 and then we took a break and opened our third one in October 2011. The goal of that one was because we wanted to offer before- and after- school care for children four and five years old, so we opened up our school aged program. (There are about 22 people who work at the three facilities when they’re at full capacity.)
GG: How many kids in the programs in the three facilities?
TB: We’re licensed for 124. Right now we’re around 90 families altogether because of the all-day kindergarten coming in, we’re re-jigging our programs right now. We’re in the process of restructuring. We have to adjust quickly and be fairly flexible.
It’s the older group (school-age children) where the revenue is, that keeps the operation going. It’s because of lower ratios. In the kinder and school-age program, you’re looking at ratios of 1 teacher for 10-15 children. With the little ones you’re looking at 1:3 to 1:5. Pre-school is 1:8.
80-90% of an operational budget for childcare goes to the salaries, so that is where the main expense is. So when you’re getting less revenue per teacher, it becomes more expensive. Childcare really is a capacity of scale. When the older children moving out, you need to have these lower ratios.
(All of Brown Bear’s ratios and daily prices are published here.)
GG: Some facilities are finding it more difficult than others to make the transition. How are you changing your programs?
TB: Infant programs are extremely expensive to run. In order for it to pay for itself you’d have to charge parents exorbitant fees. As it right now, parents are looking at mid-$60s a day to care for an infant. One full pay cheque would go to childcare. Infant programs barely pay for themselves, but what they are are a feeder program. It feeds the toddler program , which then they graduate into the preschool program. You take them in as infants, and if they’re happy with the care, and everything’s working out, they’ll see you right through until they go to school.
But everything has gone up in cost, so it just became so expensive to run an infant program that it was being subsidized by the older groups. That’s why a lot of places did away with infant care, as we did. We weren’t able to afford it at the time. Now we’re looking to re-implement that, and find efficiencies to do so without having to be subsidized by older age groups. In order to have that feeder program.
With ADK coming in, the school board really is doing a good job in migrating children into their system. Schools are even taking toddlers or pre-schoolers.
GG: Can school kindergarten classes operate at a higher ratio than a private facility?
TB: Yes. Childcare used to be regulated under the Minstry of Child and Youth Services. That’s moved to the Ministry of Education. They also are the ones that are in charge of school board child care, and ADK. They have their own regulations that allow them to operate a ratios that are much higher than child care centres.
(NOTE: The Ministry of Education web site says average full-day kindergarten class size is 26 students, with two early childhood educators (ECE). When a school board operates a before- or after-school care program, the minimum ratio of teachers to students is 1:15. Under Ontario’s Day Nursery Act, day care facilities are allowed different ratios depending on the number of children and their ages. These range from 1:10 to 1:15 for kindergarten aged kids.)
GG: Are there enough daycare spaces for different age levels in Stittsville?
TB: When I first came into the market we were one of three daycare facilities. We’re now one of 16. It’s exploded. Our community has really grown obviously, so the need was there. We always had a waiting list, so we always had a need for childcare centres. I think we are now a little flooded.
We found a really good equilibrium right before ADK came in and then that’s turned the whole picture right up on its head.
The 4-5 year-olds needed half day care. Everybody was running with just a small waiting list. Then those children migrating out, as well as the pre-schoolers being taken by the schools system as well… there are empty spaces everywhere.
GG: Is it safe to say now that we’re in a transition, and the market is adjusting based on supply and demand?
TB: I think that’s going to happen by natural attrition. Centres just won’t be able to function with the 0-3.8 age group. Especially the busy daycare centres that have boards to go through before they can make any flexible movements. (3.8 is the youngest age at which you can start school – for example, kids who start junior kindergarten in September but have a birthday in December.)
What I’m hoping will happen is that it will be the centres that aren’t at the top of the list of parental choice that will go. It will be the ones that the parents know to be high quality and have the good reputations, they are the ones that parents are going to seek and they are the ones that will remain full.
It was to a point where as long as you had a license on the wall, parents were beating on your door. I’m hoping that with the changes that come through, it will be the high quality ones that will last. Provided we can put up with the crazy climate that we’re living in!
GG: How much do parents know? Is it on their radar screen? are they aware what’s going on?
TB: I think they know ADK is hitting hard, I don’t think they know why. I think it surprises people to know that it’s the older program that subsidizes the younger program.
You have two kinds of parents. You have those who want home child care and would not be interested in centre care, and you’ve got parents who absolutely want centre care and wouldn’t be interested in home care. My worry is that parents who are centre-based in their hearts are going to need to move to homecare as centres start folding. There’s going to be less options for those parents who want the centre-based care.
That’s what Brown Bear is about. Our vision was to create a home-like environment with the checks and balance of ministry licensing. That’s why we’re operating out of a home and stayed out of the whole strip mall piece. Hopefully there will be places like ours that will be able to help on both sides. We can do the home care parents and the centre-based parents.
Coming up in Part 2 of our interview, Brown explains some of the issues with Ottawa’s funding system for daycare, which she says favours not-for-profit facilities over private centres.
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