A look at the state of child care in Ottawa

Samantha Ball has the lowdown on what Ottawa parents need to know about accessing – and paying for – quality child care in the nation’s capital.

Young Family With Baby Relaxing On Sofa At Home

Ottawa’s Sarah and Scott Atchison have a plan to keep their daughter Harper, born last September, at home for her first 18 months. It involves sharing the first year of leave, alternating vacation time and having their retired mothers step in.

Sarah Atchison says the extensive research they did prior to Harper’s birth highlighted the importance of parents and immediate family being caregivers “as much as possible in the early years.”

Another factor, something the couple learned through their research, is the fact that child care costs typically drop in licensed daycare centres – their preferred choice – when a child reaches 18 months.

While the Atchisons were diligent, there have been some significant recent changes when it comes to child care in the city, and many parents may not be aware.

In Ottawa, child care is regulated by the Ontario Ministry of Education under the Child Care and Early Years Act, which came into effect on Aug. 31 and replaced the Day Nurseries Act.

Compliance and health and safety in child care settings will be strengthened through many of the new provisions.

Parents will also be able to make better informed choices about their options.

In Ottawa, parents can choose:

• licensed home-based child care

• licensed centre-based child care or

• informal (unlicensed) child care

Aaron Burry, the city’s general manager, Community and Social Services, says while the province is responsible for and regulates child care, the city acts as the local manager. Child care is principally funded by the province; however, the city is required to cost-share some elements.

Making child care arrangements should be high on the priority list for new parents and parents-to-be, says Burry.

“We encourage parents to begin researching … as soon as possible. There are over 32,000 licensed childcare spaces in licensed homes and in child care centres, and many programs have vacancies.”

The city’s website (www. ottawa.ca/childcare) is a good place to learn more about what the city offers, he says, while the Ministry of Education offers a comprehensive website for parents, including questions to ask daycare providers and detailed licensing information.

And with the range of child care options come varying costs, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report,

The report pins dramatic differences in child care fees between Canadian cities on different provincial subsidy programs.

Parents might be surprised to know Ottawa’s ranking.

For toddlers (1.5 to three years) and preschoolers, the city placed second and third, respectively, as the most expensive for daycare (based on the median monthly fee for full-day regulated care).

For example, the child care fee for an Ottawa toddler was $1,194 per month, second only to Toronto, where, for the Atchisons, the same bill for Harper would be $1,325.

In Gatineau, a short drive from the Atchisons’ Ottawa South home, a flat rate for toddlers applies ($174 per month). But parents who meet certain financial criteria are eligible for government financial assistance through a child care fee subsidy.

However, Burry says help with child care costs is limited to specific income levels as defined by the province, and there are limited funds.

“The number of families who can receive government assistance is determined annually by the amount of funding provided to cover the costs of licensed care by the Province of Ontario.”

For 2016, the province has allocated $74.8 million to Ottawa, he said.

And the city has recently changed how Ottawa parents access fee subsidies. As of Jan. 1, financial assistance is attached “to the child and not the agency.” While this is a rather technical explanation, it essentially means more choice and flexibility for parents, and is good news for Ottawa’s families, says Burry.

And in Ottawa, “virtually all not-for-profit licensed spots in the community are now indirectly subsidized,” says Burry, adding that effective this month, 23,000 not-forprofit licensed childcare spaces receive government funding. Burry also notes several developments in child care at the provincial and federal level that could impact Ottawa parents. In Ontario, the Ministry of Education plans to continue expanding child care within the school system.

And for many Ottawa parents who followed the recent federal election, as the Atchisons did, child care was a hot topic and further discussion is planned.

Meanwhile, the federal government is proposing to meet with provinces, territories, and Indigenous communities to begin work on a new National Early Learning and Child Care Framework, “to deliver affordable, high-quality, flexible, and fully inclusive child care for Canadian families,” says Burry. The new Liberal government is also proposing to cancel the Universal Child Care Benefit and introduce a new Canada Child Benefit, which is tax-free and tied to income, as measures to reduce child poverty.

With a variety of changes on the horizon, the Atchisons are confident their strategy of being proactive when it comes to child care will serve them well. Harper is their top priority, so they say it’s time well spent.

More information

• Child Care and Early Years Act:
www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/ and

• Find and Pay for Childcare:

• The Ministry of Education – Childcare:

• Daycare Options:
www. ottawa.ca/en/residents/social-services/daycare/ daycare-options

• “They Go Up So Fast”:
www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/ they-go-so-fast

• Licensed Child Care Average Full Fee Daily Rates:

• Childcare Modernization: www.ontario.ca/page/child-care-modernization

• Child Care Fee Subsidy: For more information and to register on the wait list, parents can visit www.ottawa.ca/childcare or call 311.

• The city has developed a Child Care Provider Guide and a Parent Guide to Licensed Child Care in Ottawa:

• National Childcare Framework: