A report that a child was fatally injured in a fall at a city daycare — and similar tragedies in other parts of the country — have highlighted concerns about unlicensed daycares, says a child care advocate.
“The attention it has gotten in Ontario has made everyone more aware, but unfortunately it often takes a tragedy before changes are made,” said Pat Wege, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association.
Wege’s comments follow reports that an 18-month-old child died after falling down stairs at a Brandon home-based daycare. One source has indicated that the daycare was unlicensed.
Authorities confirm they’re investigating the death of a child, but refuse to confirm such details as whether the daycare was licensed or unlicensed.
Wege said the uncertainty surrounding the level of care and education provided at unlicensed, unregulated daycares is a concern across the country.
Three children have recently died in unlicensed daycares in Ontario. Proposed legislation in that province would give it the power to close a daycare immediately if children are at risk. It would also remove financial incentives to remain unlicensed.
Wege said a shortage of licensed daycare has forced parents to turn to either family members or unlicensed, unregulated daycares.
According to the latest statistics available, in Manitoba there are 28,580 spaces in child care centres and 3,054 spaces in licensed home daycares.
However, there are 188,000 children aged 12 and younger in the province. That means there are potentially tens of thousands of children in unregulated, in-home daycare.
As of Sept. 30, there were more than 11,000 children on the province’s online registry who were waiting for licensed daycare spots.
Unlicensed daycares aren’t illegal in Manitoba, but licensed home daycares are subject to standards that unlicensed ones aren’t.
Licensed home daycares, for example, are subject to rigorous space and safety requirements. The licensing process requires a home inspection that would highlight safety concerns.
Potential licensed daycare providers are also interviewed about their knowledge of child development and programming.
Unregulated, unlicensed home daycares are not subject to such requirements, Wege said.
“It doesn’t change the obligation of the caregiver, though, to make sure that the service they’re providing will be safe and healthy and protect the well-being of children,” Wege said.
Under Manitoba law, a licence is required for a home daycare with more than four children including the provider’s own children.
Licensing is only required when the number of children exceeds the maximum of four children for unlicensed care.
Many unlicensed home daycare providers don’t know about the four-child limit due to lack of education, Wege said, while others flout the law.
She said there’s also a lack of information for parents when it comes to what to look for while searching for child care. Busy parents may not have the time to properly evaluate child care.
“A good strategy, I think to begin with, would be to make information easily available to parents when choosing child care, regardless of whether it’s licensed or unlicensed, as to what to look for,” Wege said.
She said in-home child care providers should be provided a checklist so they can ensure they’re meeting their obligations, including safety measures.
Wege also suggested it would help if all home-based daycares were required to register, with basic requirements for background checks and safety measures.
A spokeswoman for Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross has previously indicated that Manitoba will see if there are elements of Ontario’s new legislation that can be applied here.
The department acknowledges that it doesn’t know how many unlicensed homes there are in the province.
Meanwhile, the government is working to expand affordable child care.
This year, the province is funding more than 28,000 child care spaces across the province. That’s an increase of more than 12,000 spaces since 1999.
There are plans to add another 2,000 spaces.
Guidance on selecting a daycare is available online at gov.mb.ca.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 14, 2013