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Council votes to shutter five childcare centres

A Riverside PS student was diagnosed with COVID-19, though the school is not considered an outbreak site. [Damon Maclean]

The Region of Waterloo is getting out of the childcare business, council last night voting to close the five regionally operated facilities, including the Elmira Children’s Centre.

In a 12-3 decision (Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz was one of the dissenters) at a special session Wednesday night, councillors approved the money-saving move, pledging to use some of the $6.8 million to fund more daycare spaces.

The region plans to begin the transition immediately, looking to begin closing facilities by mid-2021, eliminating 207 spaces.

Closing the centres was among the recommendations in a report by a consultant, KPMG, hired to find cuts that could cover an expected $25-million shortfall in the region’s 2021 budget. The idea met with widespread opposition from parents and childcare advocates, though their numerous pitches to council ultimately proved fruitless.

The Region of Waterloo Council voted to close The Elmira Children’s Centre at the end of 2021 on Dec 2.

Councillors picked up on figures in the consultant’s report noting that the municipality provides about two per cent of the 14,000 daycare spaces in the region, but spends about 10 per cent of its childcare budget on its five centres. Those who voted for the closures argued should be a service manager, not a provider.

With the savings, the region could help create more than 300 new spaces at other centres in the area, the report notes.

But parents such as Elmira’s Keri Lindscott were skeptical following the decision, noting there are no guarantees. She added the new spaces will take time to bring on line, and the quality is unlikely to match the levels seen in the region-operated facilities.

Keri Linscott, a concerned parent who has a child at the Elmira Children’s Centre, says even if the money can be used to create more spaces throughout the region, it will take time and that losing high quality spaces and teachers is a significant blow.

Linscott said she was disappointed by the decision, stressing it is now the parents’ job to ensure that council is held accountable for enhancing childcare.

“I think this decision was short-sighted, and closing the centres is not the way to accomplish equity in access to quality childcare in the region. It feels like we are taking steps backwards. I am disappointed for the families impacted by this decision. I’m sad for the ones in care, the ones on waitlists and heartbroken for the employees that are highly educated professionals dedicated to the children they serve,” said Linscott.

“I praise Mayor Shantz for listening to her constituents and the fact that there is a serious lack of details around the plan. I know that they talked about a high-level plan and they’re going to do research and everything, but I just, again I feel like this decision was really rushed.”

Four of the five centres – Edith MacIntosh Children’s Centre, Christopher Children’s Centre, Cambridge Children’s Centre and Kinsmen Children’s Centre – are going to close at some point in the middle of next year. The Elmira Children’s Centre is likely to close at the end of 2021, with another provider expected to take over the space at Riverside Public School.

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