With plans underway to overhaul the Ontario Early Years Centres (OEYC) in the region and throughout the province, residents in the townships can expect a few shakeups in where and how they can access these services for their young ones.
Two early years centres have been planned for the Township of Woolwich, one at Riverside Public School in Elmira, and a second at the site of the new St. Boniface Catholic School, slated for construction in 2019 in Breslau. The Breslau centre will be the first such early years centre available to the town; Elmira, on the other hand, already has limited programming on offer.
“(The two centres) are both in progress. Riverside Public School, the space is actually already built and available. St. Boniface is a construction project in, I believe, … 2019. So St. Boniface will have a child and family centre attached, as well as a new child care centre,” explained Barb Cardow, director of child services for the Region of Waterloo.
While child care centres are essentially comparable to daycares that can look after children independently, early years centres offer services that involve both the parent/caregiver and the child.
“Ontario Early Years Child and Family Centres are intended to support parents and caregivers in their role as children’s first teachers,” said Cardow, explaining the difference between child care and early learning centres. “And they are a place that parents … or caregivers come with their children to engage in really enriching play and inquiry-based learning opportunities with their children.”
The new early years centres underway in the township are part of a much larger plan by the Ontario government to change how Ontario’s early years centres are run. Rather than fund and oversee the OEYCs themselves, the province, through the Ministry of Education, will begin providing funds to the local municipalities instead starting in 2018. The local governments in turn, like the Region of Waterloo, will then be expected to fund and direct their early years services as they see fit.
Simultaneously, while the municipalities take over these centres, the services they provide are also facing a review. Currently, each OEYC is funded by the government, but run independently by organizations like the YMCA, Our Place in Kitchener, and Woolwich Community Services in Elmira, with every group providing different programs at different locations.
The Ministry of Education says that this fragmented system creates gaps in important services to different communities. Beginning in 2018, the ministry wants to standardize the various OEYC services across Ontario to ensure everyone has access to the same important services. Under this new plan, the OEYCs will be renamed to Ontario Early Years Child and Family Centres (OEYCFC), to reflect their new mandate.
“It’s not about a one-size-fits-all,” explained Douglas Bartholomew-Saunders, commissioner of regional community services, at a meeting of Community Services Committee in Waterloo, August 22. “What the ministry has done is indicated that it is looking for a more consistent approach to the delivery of early years services so that if you’re receiving them in Cambridge, they’re not dramatically different than what you’d see in … Woolwich, for instance.”
As part of this new consolidation, the region completed a needs assessment of early years services in Waterloo, and determined Riverside and St. Boniface would make good candidates for new Early Years centres.
“Our hope is that everybody will know … that an Ontario Early Years Child and Family Centre is a place that they can go with their child to learn with their child, get support as their child’s first teacher,” said Cardow, whether that means getting expert advice on child development or referrals to other services.
“And hopefully it’s also a place where they could access some of those other services in a community-hub model where maybe there are services on sight as well that they could go so that it’s all in one place.”
Funding will be transferred over to the Region of Waterloo for the early years centres starting January 2018, while the transition to the new programming is expected to take place over the course of the year.