Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Unlicensed Daycare - The Scapegoat?

In light of recent events, I feel compelled to respond to the issue of unlicensed child care.

Almost two weeks ago, an unlicensed home daycare provider in Mississauga, April Luckese, was charged with 2nd degree murder in the death of 14-month-old Duy-An Nguyen. This is a tragedy that has upset many of us, myself included. It is horrifying to think of losing one's child, and my heart goes out to the Nyugen family. I cannot fathom dealing with a loss of this magnitude.

In response to this tragedy, however, I feel that the media has drawn a conclusion that is untrue. The message seems to be: "Unlicensed child care is unsafe." (http://www.thestar.com/news/article/918473--baby-s-death-puts-home-child-care-regulations-under-microscope) As the provider of unlicensed daycare, I cannot help but take offence to this. I feel disgusted that the death of a baby is directly linked to unlicensed child care. This is wildly simplistic, and a knee-jerk reaction that is intended to find a simple cause or reason.

First of all, it is too soon to say with certainty that April Luckese is guilty of harming this child. I understand that police have evidence that she may have caused this child's death. Still, until she is sentenced in a court of law, we cannot say for sure that she did it. It is one of our rights as Canadian citizens to be innocent until proven guilty.

But for the sake of the current media argument, let's assume for a moment that she did do this crime. The picture painted by the media is that, as an unlicensed daycare provider, April Luckese let too many children into her care. This, in turn, led to an inability to deal with the demands of all the children, and in a moment of stress, she snapped. The sensational message of the media is: Unlicensed child care is unsafe, even fatal, for your child. This is far too simplistic an inference.

People have snapped with children in various circumstances. Here are a couple of stories of people accused of harming children in licensed daycares:
Does this mean all licensed daycare centres are problematic? Of course not.

What about parents who snap and harm their children? Shouldn't you need a licence to parent, too? Most child abuse is inflicted by family members (http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/repcard5e.pdf), but we have few safeguards in that domain (until, of course, the damage is already done).

It's not that I think licensing is a bad thing. Quite the contrary. I was thinking of becoming licensed  last year, but like April Luckese, I had too many children of a certain age for the licensing agency's requirements. I have always adhered to the number and age of the children allowed by Ontario Law. In case you are unfamiliar with the Day Nurseries Act, it states:

A person may provide informal child care to five children or less 
under the age of 10 years who are not of common parentage 
(children who have different parents), in addition to his/her own 
children, without a licence.

Even though I could not become licensed, the lady from the agency offered to send me all the information on becoming licensed anyway, so I could look it over. I have to say that the information she sent was very helpful, and brought issues to my attention that I may not have thought of on my own. I made changes to my daycare program by looking through the requirement checklist of the licensing agency. I wanted to meet every expectation except for the numbers requirement. I believe the only other requirement I found difficult to meet was the one that stated children under 2 should be outside for at least 2 hours every day.

My point with all this is that the information on providing quality childcare that an agency can offer is an excellent resource. But at the end of the day, it is ME who is responsible for carrying it out. And this is what is comes down to: Childcare is as good as the person providing it - licensed or not. Although inspections are done by licensing agencies, they cannot be there all day, every day. How can they know how a provider is interacting with the children when no one is watching?

And what about the numbers? Is one daycare better than another simply by virtue of having fewer children? Not necessarily. I know that there is a point at which the combination of the size and age of the group would be too much for anyone to handle. But apart from this, it is up to the provider to gauge what he or she is able to handle. I have 5 two-year-olds in my care (including my son), and I work hard to provide them with excellent care.

The Toronto Star ran an editorial stating that many parents had "no choice" but to put their children in unlicensed daycare. (http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/919339--no-real-choice-on-child-care) While I do agree that parents should have a choice as to what type of daycare is best for their child, I resent the idea that my type of daycare should be referred to as an undesirable option or a last resort.  It works for some families.  It may not work for all families. Furthermore, it is simply false to assume that licensed childcare is always the best place for a child. If you need proof of this, have a look at this article from a few years ago, discussing abuse and other problems discovered in various licensed daycares (http://www.thestar.com/news/article/218357--dirty-little-secrets-abuse-in-daycares). The notion that 'your child will be safe provided he/she is in a licensed daycare' is misleading to the public.

We are all emotionally affected by the loss of an innocent child. It is nothing less than horrific. But let's not turn this emotionality into irrationality. Licensing a daycare can be a good thing, but we are sadly mistaken if we think that this is the antidote to child maltreatment in daycare centres. 


  1. I live in the states, but agree profusely with everything you have said. I have been both licensed and unlicensed and I know my limits as to what I can do, what I want to do, and what I absolutely can't do. These by the way are 3 very separate numbers and mixes of ages!

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Suzi. It means a lot to me. How long have you been doing home daycare for?

  3. That was an absolutely amazing post,I myself am luckly to be able to stay at home with my babies.
    I understand not a lot of people can do that.

    The last couple of weeks(I don't know why.)
    But I just can`t stop thinking about April,two young children have also lost their mother because of this.I just wonder how her husband is holding up?

  4. Thanks so much Suzie!

    Yes, the whole situation just makes me sad.

  5. This was a wonderful well thought out post. I am currently a licensed childcare provider but by the end of the summer out numbers will be lower and we are planning to drop the license and simply have a smaller number of children. Most of the rest of our program will stay the same. Either way, licensed or unlicensed, it is the responsibility of the provider to his/her own personal limtis, as well as the responsibility of the parents to make sure they pay close attention to the quality of care thier child receives.

  6. Thanks for the compliment, Rose! Why are you dropping the license for low numbers? If there a minimum number of children you have to have?

    I agree with you that the parents have go with their gut about the quality of care their child is receiving.

    And as you say, the stress of the provider's job must be manageable. It is not only making sure that the provider doesn't 'snap'. A provider who manages the stresses of the job well will provide a positive setting or milieu for the children, simply by enjoying his/her time with them.

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