Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Ontario will need thousands more workers to deliver $10-a-day child care, advocates warn

The provincial government needs a plan so that child-care centres can find — and keep — tens of thousands of early childhood educators and other staff to cover the demands of $10-a-day care, experts say.

“We don’t have anywhere near that number of staff. In fact, the challenge is that we already have a retention and recruitment crisis,” said Carolyn Ferns, policy co-ordinator of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.

“It’s happening right now,” Ferns added. “Across Ontario, child-care centres are having to close rooms and limit enrolment. In the fall, a couple of centres in Sarnia and Manitoulin Island actually had to close their whole centres temporarily because of the challenges of staffing.”

The Ford government needs to “understand the scale of the problem … we need a comprehensive and long-term workforce strategy,” she said. “It’s the only way to ensure access for families.”

Within the next five years alone, the province will need an additional 16,000 daycare workers to help staff the spaces promised, she said.

And by 2026, with the demands of $10-a-day child care, a total of 65,000 educators and staff will be needed, according to estimates by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario.

About half of the 65,000 will be early childhood educators, Ferns added — a field that sees huge turnover and in which trained ECEs spend an average of just three years working in a licensed centre.

“This is a wake-up call,” Ferns said, adding the government has promised but not yet launched a workforce stabilization advisory group.

To keep early childhood educators in the profession, advocates are calling for wages of $25 an hour and up for child-care workers and $30 for early childhood educators, as well as sick days, benefits and pension plans.

The current “wage floor” for registered early childhood educators is $18 an hour.

In the legislature, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said this winter, the province will launch a “workplace stabilization advisory group … with the aim of including the voices of all those working — the experts working in our child-care space, because we want to rely on their expert experiences ensuring that we have the right staff who are trained and supported with the right levels of salary, so we can retain and recruit these high quality workers.”

A spokesperson for Lecce said the government is “supporting the recruitment of thousands of new workers while increasing wages every year of the agreement” with the federal government, and is investing $395 million for a pay boost.

“We know that more needs to be done to increase staff and space capacity,” said Grace Lee. “We continue to call on the federal government to release the nearly $1 billion in funding to build more spaces to the provinces, so that we can increase access to affordable child care for families across the province.”

New Democrat MPP Bhutila Karpoche (Parkdale-High Park) has introduced a private member’s bill to set standards of pay and working conditions for those in the field.

“Child care is often viewed as just a job, rather than a career,” she said. “We need to change that if we’re going to have enough workers to meet the expected demand for $10-a-day child care — and to do that, we need to listen to child-care workers.”

Under its agreement with the federal government, Ontario has agreed to create 86,000 new spaces before 2027.


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