Toddler’s death in unlicensed Ontario daycare spurs call for affordable childcare

When it comes to the care of young children, we've painted ourselves into a corner as a society.

The days when there was a stay-at-home parent in almost every household (almost always mum) or perhaps a grandparent or relative have passed.

With two parents working, either by choice or necessity, pre-school kids are often entrusted to strangers. Many families rely on unlicensed daycares because they're less costly or perhaps because they're convenient.

Sadly, parents' trust is sometimes misplaced.

[ Related: Parents launch $3.5M lawsuit over two-year-old daughter's daycare death ]

A couple in Vaughan, Ont., faced a family's worst fear last month when their 21-month-old daughter died at a home daycare. Police are still investigating and have not said killed Eva Ravikovich, though the parents were told her death was "100 per cent preventable, " CTV News said.

"They are two parents that have gone through an absolute nightmare," said lawyer Patrick Brown, who's filed a $3.5-million lawsuit against the daycare and the province of Ontario on behalf of Ekaterina Evtopva and Vycheslav Ravikovich.

"And it becomes even more tragic when you find out that the death of your child was preventable."

[ Related: Kitchener woman accused of poisoning kids avoids eye contact with families ]

Evtopva said the daycare was recommended by people she knew and offered pick-up and drop-off services. The couple never went into the daycare, she said, but their daughter was "absolutely healthy" and smiling when a daycare worker last picked her up.

Evtopva said she made a routine call to the daycare to check on her daughter and got no indication there was anything wrong. Later, her husband received a call and went to the daycare "just to find that our child was dead," she said.

The couple launched their suit after the province disclosed there had been three complaints about the number of children at the daycare —27 on the day the toddler died — but only one was followed up, CTV News said. Evtopva said she was unaware of any complaints.

CBC News reported that provincial law requires unlicensed daycares to have no more than five children under the age of 10.

An investigation following Eva's death turned up health hazards related to food safety and infection prevention, and the daycare was subsequently closed down.

Brown told reporters the government was negligent in not following up on the complaints and not making information about the daycare public.

"We also know already that two ministry employees have been suspended as a result of the complaints made about this daycare," Brown said.

The parents' statement of claim says "Eva suffered serious injuries" and that the daycare did not have qualified staff, maintain a proper ratio of staff to child and failed to provide a clean, sanitary and safe environment.

CBC News reported last month that Eva's death has triggered an investigation by Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin into how the Ministry of Education response to complaints and concern for unlicensed daycares.

Education Minister Liz Sandals said her ministry was reviewing all complaints over the last year to see how officials followed up.

CBC News noted fatalities at unlicensed daycares including a baby shaken to death in 2010 and a toddler found at the bottom of a pool in 2010.

Of course, the problem is not limited to Ontario.

A New Brunswick couple, Hedwidge Surette and Ronald Gaudet, are facing several sexual assault charges related to their operation of an unlicensed daycare in the community of Notre-Dame, CBC News reported.

In May, Maria McFarren of Port Coquitlam, B.C., was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to criminal negligence causing death when one-year-old Arto Howley died on his first day at her home daycare operation, the Vancouver Province reported.

[ Related: Kitchener woman accused of poisoning kids avoids eye contact with families ]

Court heard McFerran left the infant unattended in an unpadded car seat for more than an hour, later finding him slumped over and unresponsive. He had apparently strangled on one of the retaining straps.

McFerran took him out of the car seat, stashed it in the garage, brought the body downstairs to the living area and waited seven minutes before calling 911.

At the time of the child's death, McFerran's Rattle-N-Roll daycare was looking after seven children when regulations allow unlicensed daycares to have only two.

[ Related: License more daycares, Winnipeg parents urge province ]

In a column for Maclean's after Eva Ravikovich's death, Charlie Gillis suggested parents are forced to accept "sweatshops" like the Vaughan daycare because it's all they can afford.

"It’s been seven years since the Liberals’ plan for a national, universal daycare program fell victim to a change in government, and still child care remains one of the country’s great, unresolved issues," said Gillis.

Polls indicate many Canadian parents would take advantage of an affordable universal program similar to the one offered in Quebec, but others put daycare behind care from parents or close relatives, or want financial help so one parent can stay at home until the a child is ready to go to school.

In the absence of universal, affordable public daycare — a pipe dream in today's economic environment — governments need to buckle down and more closely regulate unlicensed facilities, he argued.

"That’s a far cry from the egalitarian vision of universal child care. But at least it’s doable," Gillis wrote.

"And with Canadians as ambivalent as ever on a highly divisive issue, settling for what’s possible—as soon as possible—seems the obvious course of action."