Waterloo region to close 5 childcare centres amid strong opposition

·3 min read

There will be at least four fewer regionally-operated child care centres by the end of 2021.

Waterloo Region council voted on Wednesday for a recommendation to close the five child care centres it operates and to divert the savings to subsidize private child care systems, despite significant disapproval of the plan. The vote was 12-3, with Cambridge Reg. Coun. Kathryn McGarry absent.

Staff will move to close four child care spaces by mid-2021 and the Woolwich location at a later date. The Dec. 2 special council meeting received around 40 responses in opposition to the divestment scheme put forward by Region’s children’s centres review Steering Committee.

“This has not been an easy decision at all. I heard the passion of all of those parents talking about their children, and I have to tell you, I’ve gotten emails from my friends, my kids’ friends and people I knew,” said regional chair Karen Redman.

Reg. Coun. Sandy Shantz of Woolwich, who opposed the motion, said redirecting the $4.3 million in provincial funds the measure frees up for childcare calls for a more “robust plan" than the ones put forward.

“I would like to see a plan that addresses the special needs [support] … the regional system provides — a plan that includes what training upgrades and resources would look like for all the staff in the system regionwide.”

It would be “foolhardy” to decide on spending without public consultation from “various constituencies that we’re purporting to help,” noted regional staff Douglas Bartholomew-Saunders.

Shantz replied, “I’d like to see something nailed down more before I support the total divestiture.”

Councillors argued it would be more reasonable to improve child care for more children as a service manager.

“We’ve heard from many parents whose children are in the regional centres refer to them as the ‘gold standard,’ or the very, very best, and I feel badly for the other providers who are in the community ... I want all child care facilities to be gold standard,” said Waterloo Coun. Jim Erb, who voted in favour.

Coun. Berry Vrbanovic of Kitchener said the region should play a leadership role in providing quality the early childhood education sector, where the centres paid among the highest wages in the region.

“This action will put added pressures on women in the workforce, both those who are mothers and those who are employees of our child care centres,” he said, adding the regional system “treats these educators as the professionals they are.”

An external review found over 200 child care spots and 62 full-time positions would be affected.

Wendy Smith, an educator at a regionally operated centre in Cambridge, told council the care they provide is “unique.”

“If your child started in the infant room, their teacher would remain with them until they left for kindergarten

“You say you want to provide for vulnerable children. We already do that,” Smith said adding the centre has cared for a child with brittle bone disorder who “excelled” and a child who needed “tube feeding, total immobility, and the list goes on.”

Tania Gonzalez, whose child attends the centre said children's education should not be something to make cuts on.

“At the end of the day, investing the money for their education now will save all taxpayers money later on social services, like housing, like welfare, the jail system.

“Investing in a good education will end up saving all of us money.”

Swikar Oli, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times