The end of provincial funding for a fee-reduction pilot program means the Region of Waterloo will be increasing fees at its child care centres at year’s end. In total, some 90 operations are expected to raise fees when funding runs out as of December 31.
The region directly operates five child care centres, including the Elmira Children’s Centre at Riverside Public School.
Parents will see the infant daily rate rise to $74.70 from $64.70. Along with that, there will be a $3 increase in the toddler rate making it $50.90 per day and the preschool rate will go up by $2 to $47.20 per day.
In the absence of the provincial funding, the region made the decision to raise rates commensurately, citing already pressing budget issues.
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“We have made a decision to discontinue the fee-reduction pilot to allow us to focus our funding into our expanded system because there are many new spaces in our system that need funding just to support the general operations of child care,” said children’s services director Barb Cardow.
The pilot was launched in July 2018 to help parents with affordability in child care services, with the region receiving a significant increase in funding during that time. The goal was to help increase child care spaces and accessibility of child care to meet parents’ needs, said Cardow, noting affordability is the one area that many parents say is their biggest challenge.
Since this was always known to be a pilot program there was no guarantee for continued support and funding, added Cardow, who has communicated that reality to those using the services.
“The impacts will be felt most greatly by the parents of infant children because their fees were reduced by the most,” she said of the fee-reduction efforts.
To combat the increase of fees, the region will continue the fee reduction pilot for any infants that were enrolled in a centre prior to September 1 until the child transitions into a toddler classroom.
Quality child care experiences can have a positive effect on a child’s development, and that’s why it’s important that these services continue to implement ways of keeping the services safe and affordable, she said. Not having access to a regulated and licensed environment can pose risks for both a child or for the parents who are then faced with difficult decisions like not returning to work.
In addition to the increases, the provincial government has introduced the Ontario Child Care Access and Relief from Expenses (CARE) tax credit that will support families with incomes up to $150,000 to help them access a range of child care options, said Cardow.
“It’s given out on a sliding scale, so lower-income families would receive more funding, but the issue is that when the tax returns are complete for the year, then the family will get the money back.”
Families will be able to claim the CARE tax credit starting with the 2019 tax year and are not required to gather additional information when filing their tax returns.
Although there are alternatives to coping with the increase in fees, there are still a number of issues the Waterloo Region faces when it comes to child care services. According to research done by the previous government, an estimate shows that 40 percent of children aged 0-4 years require child care services, but currently, there is enough space in the region for about a quarter of those kids.
“Either parents who have a higher income can afford it, or the parents who have low enough income that they can access child care fee subsidy’s to pay for the placement. It’s the parents in the middle who would likely be the ones who just can’t afford to send their children,” said Cardow.
Children’s services in the surrounding region will continue to work on a strategic service plan for child care across the community by working with operators who can provide funding to keep fees down, she added.
In addition to Elmira, there are four other centres in the area that are directly operated by the Waterloo Region and those will all be affected by the increase along with some 90 other centres.