Children. My life has always revolved around helping, supporting and teaching children. I have been a nanny. I have been (and still am) a volunteer big sister through Youth Assisting Youth. I have volunteered full-time at Sick Children's Hospital, working on the Child Life Unit. Later I taught children with severe autism. Then I moved on to teaching Grades 3, 4 and 5 at a private school. I hold a Child and Youth Worker Diploma, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology, and a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Toronto. I love to teach, and I love Children.
With all the joy I derive from children, it made sense for me to stay home with my son for as long as I could. Yet I still wanted to work. What better way to fulfill both these desires, I thought, than to open a home daycare? I felt completely confident in my skills, and excited at the prospect of running my own business. It was a new adventure.
I checked into the laws surrounding home daycares, and found the guidelines online from the Ontario Ministry of Education. You can find the guidelines for licensed and unlicensed daycares at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/parents/orientation-package-en.pdf
Even though an unlicensed home daycare provider is permitted to care for up to five children, not including his/her own, I started out with just one other child at first. After a few months, I started accepting more children into the daycare as I became more comfortable in my new job.
In the early days, I cared for four one-year-olds, including my son. I have to say that of all the age combinations of children I've had over the years, this was the easiest. Still, when I called an agency about about getting licensed, I was told that I had too many children under a certain age. I asked them to send me all their literature, so that I could educate myself further, and check if there were any areas in my daycare that could be improved, any safety issues I had overlooked, etc. Simply looking through the paperwork was very helpful to me.
Even though I did not qualify for licensing, I still did not feel over my head. I guess this is because the kids were all in the same boat, so to speak: I would load all four of them into our Little Tykes Explorer wagon, and we would head out to various drop-in programs in the neighbourhood. Or we would play out in the yard. Indoor time was even easier since I could manipulate the environment to ensure their safety. So I lost interest in trying to get licensed. I was, after all, completely abiding by the law, and I realized that a license wasn't necessary. It wouldn't have changed much (if anything) about the way I ran my daycare, since I was already following most of the guidelines that an agency would have set out.
When Noah was around two, I cared for him and four other children of about the same age. This was an extremely busy time in the daycare. It was exciting, challenging, and definitely a major physical work-out ever day! I felt completely in control of the daycare, and yet with the particular mix of children I had (and their energy levels) I knew that was my limit at that time. I definitely wouldn't have felt comfortable adding another child to the mix, even though, under the Ontario law, it would have been legal for me to do so.
Leila joined our family when Noah was 3 1/2. I took a month off after her birth, and then just took the two older boys back into the daycare for a few months. So I had 3 three-year-olds, and baby Leila. I remember this being a very leisurely time in the daycare, but I guess it was just in comparison to how busy it had been at other times. It was so sweet to see all the boys interacting with and learning from, this helpless little baby. It really was good for them. It was like a new member of the family for everyone. That's what a home daycare becomes: another sort of family. A daycare family.
When Noah began Junior Kindergarten, our schedule changed. We had to go pick him up from school every day at 11:30. The area where we would pick him up was gated. It had a playground and a front yard. But man, when those kindergarten kids got dismissed for the day, the yard was filled with chaos and excitement.
Soon after school started, I realized I did not feel completely comfortable about the safety of the children in my care, in this particular situation. I put out help-wanted ads and quickly found an assistant, just for our two-hour outdoor time. I have had someone to help me for this portion of the day ever since.
I have been running this daycare for five years now. I currently care for children of various ages. Gone are the days when I would have four one-year-olds, or five two-year-olds. It is interesting though, than now that I have this range, I do not feel comfortable caring for more than two children under age two in the daycare. It just becomes trickier with different age ranges and combinations of children. I've learned that through experience.
So, I have provided you with some background, so that you know where I'm coming from. It's time for me to get to the point of this blog entry.
Over the past few years some Canadian daycares have experienced well-publicized tragedies. It is heartbreaking to see a picture of any child that has passed away, on the front page of a newspaper. For me, there is additional horror when I see the headline so often attached. Usually, it is some variation of "Child Dies at Unlicensed Home Daycare". Suddenly, I feel unfairly linked to a horror I had nothing to do with.
I am proud of my job. I enjoy my job. I work extremely hard to provide the best loving care that I can for these children. It is defamatory for anyone to compare my daycare to one in which there were 27 children, 14 dogs, soiled diapers littered around the floor, and feces on the carpet. Really. This is not my daycare. And I am becoming more and more offended, and just plain fed up, that the media constantly pulls on the term "unlicensed", making me one of them. Unlicensed does not equal illegal. Some people are running unlicensed daycares that are illegal. I am not.
I recently met a licensed home daycare provider at the park. At first I was a little envious. Maybe I should look into getting licensed again too? I would probably fit the age quota for kids at this time. I was eager to learn about her experience with becoming, and remaining, licensed. But as we talked and shared our experiences, I realized she was a little envious of me. This is because the agency she is with takes almost half of the pay she gets for each child. This is atrocious. This nice lady knew it too, and she confided in me that she is probably going to switch to providing unlicensed care. She cannot afford to do otherwise.
Is this how much our society values child care? That we would pay people so little to do it? That we would insinuate that all unlicensed daycares are illegal (when they are not)? That to become "legal" (which has become synonymous with licensed), we have to take a large cut of someone's hard-earned pay? I'm not sure if this is another blow to feminism (as most providers are women) as well as a blow to the value we place on the early care of our children, but it has to stop. We need to start respecting the importance of child care, and respect the hard work that many of us ARE doing for children. As daycare providers, we are responsible for little lives. This should never be seen as an easy, and/or unimportant job. I'm sorry, but it is huge.
The Ombudsman for Ontario, Andre Marin, released a report last week criticizing the government for failing to ensure children's safety at unlicensed daycares. And I agree. When four calls are made to complain about a daycare, and no one listens, that should be illegal. When people are running home daycares with far too many children in them, when they are not following ministry guidelines, that is illegal. And it is not just illegal, it is tragic. When children have to die before we begin to value child care more, that is tragic.
From what I've seen, I generally agree with Andre Marin and with the legislation that is now making its way through the Ontario legislature. We should limit the number of children cared for, in total, including the children of the owner, but not to the extent that is being suggested. We certainly don't want too many children in a daycare, but we also don't want to be so stringent that we make it financially impossible for capable people to run a home daycare effectively. I think caring for six children under six years old, including one's own children, might be a better limit, rather than five, which is what the government is proposing.
And please, yes, have a registry, and a place where people can make complaints! Protect children. That's a no-brainer.
Most of those daycare providers (those of us with nothing to hide) have no problem being overseen. So sure, monitor us. Help us, the people, who run unlicensed home care, to become better at what we do. But don't micromanage. Don't scrutinize. Many of us in the business have become very knowledgeable in this niche. We might just know a bit about the crucial elements inherent in a good daycare.
Furthermore, if it's bad for a daycare to be anything but licensed, then why does unlicensed care even exist? Why not change the laws so that unlicensed home daycares are not permissible at all? (a silly notion, but I'm trying to make a point here)
And for goodness sake, if you really want us all to be licensed, then make it more financially advantageous for us to do so! Don't make us jump through hoops. Don't take away half our pay. Don't take needed, loving and successful child care spots out of the community.
Respect the important work we do. Support us in our effort to provide quality care to our future generation. Let's work together.
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