Advocates are demanding that proposed full-day kindergarten must be backed up by a strong early learning and child care system for all children, from infants to 12-year-olds. The pressures on current child care programs are so acute that the next government must address the crisis in child care.
Signs of the crisis are the explosion of waiting lists: the waiting list for subsidized child care in Toronto is over 12,000 children and has grown by 40% in the past year. In addition, low wages mean that trained staff are leaving the sector. The majority of students in trained as Early Childhood Educators do not enter, or stay, in the field.
"Full-day preschool programs begin to address one piece in the development of a early learning and care system," commented Elizabeth Ablett, Executive Director of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care in Toronto. "The next government will need work with all the early learning programs if we are to move from the current patchwork of services to a system where all Ontario children can access, and afford, a high-quality early learning and child care program."
In this election campaign, the Liberal and NDP Parties have both promised a new pre-school, or kindergarten program for 4- and 5-year-old children. The program is a substantial investment in the 4- and 5-year-old age group and a recognition of the importance of the early years in child development. An open letter to party leaders shows broad support for early learning programs.
The Progressive Conservative have made no commitments for new funding for child care programs, stands in sharp contrast to the policies advanced by the Liberal and NDP parties.
"What child care needs is a commitment to stable, ongoing funding and a plan to meet the growing needs," said Toronto City Councillor Janet Davis. "It's not good enough for the province to pass on federal money or to provide stop-gap funding. In our city and across the province, waiting lists have reached historic highs, and the demand for high-quality, affordable child care continues to grow. Something has to change".