Many Ontario parents say a lack of after-school programs is making it even more difficult to raise a family in the province amid the rising cost of living.
Two advocacy groups, Moms at Work and Moms Together, are calling on the government to increase funding for after-school care programs. The groups represent over 17,000 parents, and say funding for the program has flat-lined since its inception in 2009. Parents who spoke to CBC News say they want to see all of the overall program costs covered.
They say what used to cover 90 per cent of program costs now supports less than 25 per cent, and the investment should be $40.5 million annually — a figure supported by BGC Canada (formerly Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada).
The province, meanwhile, says it's reviewing the program, has increased the investment this school year by $1.1 million, and currently supports hundreds of sites.
But many families say they're facing long waitlists, and struggling to find accessible and affordable care options in their communities.
"After-school care seems to have sort of fallen under the radar with $10-a-day childcare and all these other things," said Allison Venditti, founder of Moms at Work.
"I'm in downtown Toronto and there are waitlists for everything. Sometimes there's the space, but not enough staff. Or now they have staff but they can't afford the space with the rising costs. So it seems like everybody's caught in this sort of web of things that are just not working," she said, adding some centres were also forced to close during the pandemic.
Allison Venditti, founder of Moms at Work, says her organization is hearing from parents who are on more than a dozen waitlists for after school care. (Submitted by Allison Venditti)
Venditti has three kids and says she had to hire additional help because she couldn't get all three kids into the same centre. She says one of her kids was on a waitlist for two and a half years before she got a phone call.
"Providers are apologizing endlessly," she said.
Katie German, senior adviser for Moms Together, says the organization is hearing from several parents who say they are receiving notices that their fees are going up because the funding the providers are receiving isn't enough to keep up with costs.
"We heard stories of moms who have been on waitlists for five years," German said.
"I hear from moms every day who have to reduce their hours at work and take a pay cut to be able to pick up their kid on time. And it affects their cost of living and their ability to get through to the next paycheque."
The two groups have an online campaign encouraging parents to share their struggles and reach out to the provincial government.
Waitlists 'not getting better': non-profit
The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport provides funding to non-profit organizations to run-after school programs, including BGC Canada. The ministry recently announced a $1.1 million dollar increase to the program, which will benefit BGC Canada. Owen Charters, the organization's president and CEO says the increased funding is a "great first step" but rising costs and inflation remain a big problem.
"Not just because funding has been flat for some time and obviously inflation has had a huge impact...but there's also a need to find and create new spots," Charters said, adding the rising costs impact everything from rent to wages and the cost of meals and snacks.
Owen Charters, president and CEO of BGC Canada, says investing in childcare is also investing in the well-being of children and the economy overall. (Submitted by BGC Canada )
Charters said that at a recent meeting with representatives of several of their clubs, waitlists were a key concern.
"Our clubs say, 'Don't promote us because we don't have any room for these kids to show up,'" Charters said, adding many of the areas with longer waitlists also have higher levels of poverty.
"Those are the places where childcare spaces are at a premium, especially subsidized spaces. And those waitlists are long and they're not getting better."
In addition to more funding from the government, BGC Canada says there's a need for "serious conversations" about the future of childcare in Ontario.
"Not just a sort of a piecemeal — fix one problem over here and fix another problem over there and hope that these Band-Aids will take us through the next five or 10 years. We really need to think about the future of childcare and how it contributes to a strong society and a strong economy," Charters said.
Province reviewing after-school program
In a statement, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport said the government has invested $67.5 million in Ontario's After School Program since 2018, which it says helps 110 organizations deliver programming at approximately 400 sites including in over 80 "priority neighbourhoods."
The statement goes on to say that Ontario's After School Program is being reviewed to ensure it continues to be effective, and that the ministry wants to make sure the program reaches young people and families in high-priority neighbourhoods across the province.
"Some changes that the ministry is making for 2023-24 include emphasis on physical activity, more flexibility for local programming needs, simplification of administrative processes and increased investment in the program," the statement said.
Meanwhile, Venditti says the impacts of not having access to after-school care are far reaching and will have long-term effects.
"Parents and also employers need to be talking about this because it is really impacting businesses being able to function," she said.
"If parents can't find care, they can't work."