East Toronto daycares not in or ineligible for “$10-a-day program” are closing or struggling to stay open

Over the past few months, many daycares across Canada have permanently closed their doors after years of service.

Although some have the COVID-19 pandemic to blame as revenue across various sectors took a major hit, not many were expecting the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) – a seemingly innocent gesture of good faith and support from the federal government – to be the final nail in the coffin for child care providers.

For many child care operators, the $10-a-day child care program has proven to be a double-edged sword.

Caitlin Moniz, President of the Beaches Co-Operative Playschool, a child care service which has been a fixture in the East Toronto community for more than 50 years, told Beach Metro Community News that they are on the brink of closure due to an inability to keep up with expenses.

“We’re slated to close by the end of June,” said Moniz. “We’re thankful that we can make it to June, but going into September, we can’t guarantee that we’ll have the enrollment we would need to stay open.”

Although Beaches Co-Op had to pause services for more than a year at the peak of the pandemic, Moniz said that they were still in a “pretty good position” upon reopening. However, things took a turn as the federal CWECC program rolled out in Ontario.

An agreement between the federal and provincial governments which aimed to deliver “affordable, inclusive, and high-quality child care for families in Ontario”, CWELCC was seen as a saviour for many parents desperately in need of affordable child care.

Once the program began, child care services that opted into the program were mandated to cut their rates in half by Dec. 31, 2022; saving families an average of $6,000 per child every year. The end goal of the CWELC in Ontario is to reduce rates to a $10-a-day average by 2026.

But the program has come with a number of hiccups.

Like many other child care services in Ontario, Beaches Co-Op experienced dwindling registrations for their services as more and more parents opted to seek out the centres operating under the $10-a-day umbrella.

“The school almost shut down last year because we just didn’t have the enrollment since people were going to full-time care because obviously it was now cheaper,” said Moniz. “But we kept it open with hopes that we would join CWELCC this fall.”

To make matters worse, however, when Beaches Co-Op attempted to join the program, they discovered that the criteria had changed and they were now ineligible.

“We’re technically considered part-time. We run morning programs five days a week and we also have afternoon programs,” said Moniz. “So because we aren’t (nine-to-five, five days a week), we aren’t eligible.”

Suffering a heavy loss of clientele and an inability to join the program that has taken away this clientele, Beaches Co-Op now finds itself between a rock and a hard place as it struggles to fund the inflated costs of running its child care.

Upon contacting officials about their eligibility status, Moniz said she was informed that there wasn’t enough funding for all centres even though the program hopes to create 86,000 new licensed early learning and child care spaces in Ontario.

The criteria, Moniz was told, was altered to focus access on communities that need the service the most. Unfortunately, this leaves many others on the verge of bankruptcy, scavenging for isolated clients of closed down centres as the child care industry continues to deal with the implementation of CWELCC.

“Kassia Preschool, a centre in our community that runs a program very similar to ours, shut down in December and we, luckily, took some of their families on,” said Moniz.

Kerry-Ann Facey, owner and Director of Kassia Preschool, told Beach Metro Community News that she has been overcome with emotions after having surrendered to the idea of closing her beloved preschool after 12 years of service.

“I had to make the difficult decision in December of 2023,” she said.

With the news of Kassia’s closure coming as a shock to the families it serves, Facey said she did everything possible to try and keep her business’ door open. Families who had children at the centre even created a GoFundMe page which collected more than $10,000, “but it just wasn’t going to work”.

“The business wasn’t sustainable any longer as it was every other year,” said Facey. “But at the end of the day I can’t point any fingers because I decided not to opt in (to CWELCC).”

Like Beaches Co-Op, Facey’s business found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the lower prices offered at $10-a-day centres – facilities that now have long waiting lists of clients hoping to register.

It is uncertain whether Facey would have had to close Kassia if she had opted to join the CWELCC program.

Since the second phase of the CWELCC roll out which required a 50 per cent rate cut that would be subsidized by the government, child care services across Canada have become increasingly anxious about the program’s nature.

In Alberta, for example, many centres protested the program by briefly closing to bring attention to the situation. Due to the CWELCC agreement taking effect during the pandemic, many centres had their fees frozen at “artificially low, pandemic-compassionate pricing levels”, according to Association of Alberta Child Care Entrepreneurs Chair Krystal Churcher.

This means that the program’s subsidy, in many cases, fails to meet the demands of what is now today’s inflated market.

“The funding that the CWELCC has doesn’t really cover the full cost of operating a child care program,” said Facey.

Furthermore, there have been reports of reimbursement payments coming in 40 to 45 days late which forces many child care providers to dip into personal savings or take out loans in order to keep their services afloat.

“Yes you want $10-a-day childcare and it sounds great but what kind of quality of care are your children receiving in these programs,” said Moniz. “Especially if the centre is not receiving the funds from the government.”

The state of Ontario’s child care is uncertain. Hanging by a thread, many of Ontario’s child care operators have had their business structure simplified to basic survival. For Beaches Co-Operative Playschool, the aim is to continue serving East Toronto families until at least June.

To do so, Moniz hopes to garner as much public support as Kassia through a GoFundMe set up for the Beaches Co-operative Playschool.

— Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Amarachi Amadike, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Beach Metro Community News