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TELCCS fill critical childcare gaps for families in need

As some of you may know, long before my entry into politics I walked away from the banking world to operate a home child care centre while my child with special needs was young. Child care centres equipped to accommodate a child with autism were few and far between in those days. That experience always leads me to pore over reports concerning Toronto’s delivery of children’s services.

This week, our Economic and Community Development Committee (ECDC) took delivery of a massive third party analysis of our city operated child care centres. The study of this particular component was requested back in 2018 after a review by City Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler on the overall administration of Toronto Children's Services. A lot has happened during the pandemic to compromise the way child care is delivered in this city. This disruption has stretched on so long it would be easy to lose sight of what the system once was, or even the goals we had for improving it.

Luckily, the study presented at ECDC on Thursday morning stubbornly sticks to the deep analysis its authors completed in 2019. It focuses on a sub-set of 46 city-run centres and presents us with recommendations which will prove very useful as we recover and rebuild the world of work post-pandemic.

First of all, a quick explanation of the system and its history. Children's Services functions in a variety of ways. It is the administrator and placement coordinator for a licensed child care system that includes over 1,000 child care centres. These consist of for-profit and not-for-profit centres, licensed home care providers and lastly, 46 fully city-operated entities known as ‘Toronto Early Learning Child Care Services, or TELCCS.

The system's origins date back to the 1960s when the Regional Municipality of Metro Toronto was formed, incorporating the City of Toronto along with five surrounding municipalities.

Licensed child care was expanded to take advantage of child care fee subsidies made available through federal funding initiative known as the Canada Assistance Program (CAP) which matched provincial spending for poverty alleviating programs. For Ontario, the funding breakdown was 50 percent federal, 30 percent provincial with municipalities making up the final 20 percent.

I’ll quote the TELCCS study in order to briefly deliver the history of how the city became a part of delivering child care and providing subsidized child care spaces:

In other words, this funding arrangement plays a role in the viability of all child care, whether city-run or for-profit, because the funds go to subsidizing the fees of families unable to afford the full costs. At $1,200 to $1,700 a month per child, few families can. Most child care centres would be half-empty and no longer viable if they depended on affluent families alone and had no subsidized clients. Needless to say, without the city-run centres, many, many mothers who need to work or return to school to provide for their children would be blocked from any economic opportunity.

Over time, the federal government removed itself from this funding arrangement and has played more of an ad hoc role in expanding child care spaces. A new national child care strategy announced shortly before COVID-19 is showing promise. While we wait for the federal strategy to unfold, the pie chart below gives you the dollars and cents of this year’s child care funding, and where your tax dollars fit.

A decision by the Supreme Court of Canada is expected this summer

Given all of our tax contributions to child care in our city, the TELCCS study was requested after the Auditor General’s review. Romeo-Beehler made several immediate recommendations that made the whole system more accountable - elements such as how we track ongoing eligibility for subsidies, how fees are transferred and accounted for - to make sure we are all getting proper bang for our buck, especially the kids.

The AG also recommended we take a deep look at the TELCCS. Council agreed we should make sure these unique centres, although slightly more expensive to run than other child care providers, still deliver the added benefits we expect and set the bar for quality of all child care across the city.

The result is 115 pages of analysis. I read it all so you wouldn’t have to (unless you have a particular interest). It all boils down to the compelling conclusion as depicted in this graphic:

TELCCS centres are situated in areas where other operators are less inclined to set up business but where family needs are still great. Some of these are purpose-built with other government investments; others are former child care operators since absorbed by the city.

Because these centres are used to serve a diverse group of child care needs, such as families experiencing a radical change in circumstances and special needs diagnosis, every staff member is a certified early childhood educator. This means the payroll is often higher than other child care centres, although the auditor general uncovered great savings in the city's management for all TELCCS.

The authors of the study found other operators and stakeholders are glad these TELCCS centres exist. Because the city operates them, these 46 centres can hold a small supply of vacancies so a family in crisis is accommodated in certain cases. It can be heartbreaking for the hundreds of non-TELCCS childcare sites when every spot is full and they must turn away a child in urgent need.

Whatever the needs of children, and of course some have perfectly average needs, TELCCS are integrated learning spaces of high quality and care. They help families give their kids a head start for schooling and a better future. They demonstrate best practices for the rest of the system.

In a review of all of the literature concerning TELCCS centres, the study authors found Children’s Services designs its program relying on eight themes:

The study recommends these themes as a path to a beneficial environment for children and affirms my strong belief we should find ways in the future to expand the use of TELCCS beyond the regular child care to make them even more vibrant community use spaces. I’m convinced after reading this report these centres are the best places for us to begin to define that phrase we keep hearing, “Build Back Better” as we recover and rebuild from COVID-19. Situated in neighbourhoods where family needs are highest and where the pandemic has created the deepest economic impacts, TELCCS centres are right where we need them. Strengthening the TELCCS network is how we help children and families begin the journey back to earning incomes and onwards to prosperity.


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