Public meeting discusses future of five regionally operated child care centres
KITCHENER -- The Region of Waterloo held a public meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the future of five child care centres in the community.
A report recommended the closure of the five centres, which are operated by the region.
Parents said they're frustrated by that recommendation and private daycares are worried the closure could mean more challenges for an already strained system.
Maria Vermeer said she's been feeling down since she learned her three-year-old's daycare might close.
"It was really, really, hard," she said. "I cried, I have to admit."
Edith MacIntosh Children's Centre is one of the centres that could close for good.
"The plan is out of touch with the reality of how hard it is to find quality care," Vermeer said.
There were 44 delegates, including Vermeer, at Wednesday's meeting. Each of them asked the region not to close the child care centres.
No decision was made in the meeting.
"I wouldn't work if I couldn't find a program of equal quality," Vermeer said before it began.
However, the region said there are other options. Officials said since the pandemic began, there are around 2,000 unfilled licensed child care spaces for children under the age of four.
The report said the closure could save the region around $6.8 million in annual operating costs, money that could be reallocated to help the 14,000 in the child care system.
Barb Cardow, director of children's services with the region, said it uses 10.2 per cent of its budget to operate the spaces.
Alexandra Petrusic, owner of Elite Daycare, is worried the closures could put more strain on a system struggling during the pandemic.
"We have to keep staff, we have to have extra cleaning staff," she said.
The daycare is operating at 60 per cent capacity, but Petrusic said she's not sure they can expand after the pandemic.
"Unless there's some kind of support coming from the region or the governments," she said.
She said they were fully booked earlier this year.
The region said parents should sign up on the wait list, but officials said they don't know how long it is due to the pandemic.
"We still have one list, a centralized wait list," Cardow said. "But really, the data that's in there is not accurate at this point."
Officials said closing the centres will actually create more spaces. By eliminating the 207 spaces, they said they could between 350 and 790 new ones.
Speakers at the meeting said the quality of care at the regionally operated centres is worth keeping, noting that Edith MacIntosh Child Centre in particular was one of a handful of childcare centres in Ontario to recieve AAA grading.
"The truth is the highest cost of the regional centres is because they provide a decent wage for early childhood educators," one delegate said.
If passed, the decision would result in 62 full time early childhood education workers losing their jobs.
Regional council is set to make a final vote on the matter on Dec. 2.