Child care shortage is `daunting'
Halton's exploding population has led to a dire need for child-care spots, with a shortage of almost 9,000 licensed spaces recently revealed. "It's daunting," said Mary Beth Jonz, Halton's director of Children's Services. This information arose from data collected for the Region's Integrated Early Learning and Child Care Plan. The plan was endorsed last week by the Region's health and social services committee after a presentation by Jonz. The plan, which is completed every five years, also outlines a need for fee subsidies and integrated services for children with special needs. There are currently 225 children with special needs in Halton who aren't receiving these services, Jonz told committee members. Another issue outlined in the presentation is a shortage of funding to pay wage subsidies for early childhood educators. All in all, the projected cost of meeting child care needs from 2007 to 2011 is $94.5 million. "It is a staggering amount," Jonz said. Most of the information-- including the need for more child-care spaces and an increase in wage subsidies and services-- isn't a surprise, Jonz said. What was surprising was the amount of growth that occurred since the last plan. "We knew we had growth, but we didn't know how much growth there was through all of Halton, with Milton the highest," Jonz said. From 2000 to last year, Milton had a 301 per cent increase in births, she said. Fortunately, there are new child-care spaces being developed. Yesterday, a groundbreaking ceremony was to take place for the new Bruce Trail Early Learning and Child Care Centre in Milton. Through the Best Start initiative, another 200 spaces will be created in Halon this year and next, Jonz said. The message that needs to be communicated through the plan is that "with our growth, our funding can't keep up. We can't meet the needs," Jonz said.
The child-care plan reinforces the need to push both the provincial and federal levels of government for funding. "We want to continue to be a voice that's heard," Jonz said. Planning for this child-care plan was already in the works when the Ontario government announced its Best Start initiative last year for kids up to six years old. Since Halton's Child Care Plan focuses on kids up to 12 years old, this plan was broader than Best Start, but had similar goals, a staff report states, and the two initiatives were melded together. "An integrated approach to planning was essential," the report reads. The plan was developed jointly by the Our Kids-Early Years/Our Kids Network and the Children's Services division. The data came from parents, child care staff and community agencies. Focus groups were held and surveys collected. The next steps will include the development of a financial plan, which should be in place by the fall, Jonz said. Regional Chairman Gary Carr commended staff for their work on the child care plan. "The work you're doing is terrific," he said. Committee member Carol D'Amelio expressed her appreciation for the presentation to the committee, commenting the report was "a tough read". And committee Chair Jeff Knoll remarked the work done by staff won't be short lived. "I know we're going to reap the benefits for years to come," he said.