More and more Canadian daycares and dayhomes are giving working parents the chance to check in on their children in real time.
They are assembling surveillance systems to give parents peace of mind and a window into their child’s day.
The practice, which is growing with the rise of smart home systems and affordable camera gear, is controversial.
Richelle Louch, who runs A Beautiful Mind Junior Kindergarten, says working under Big Brother is not “a big deal at all.”
She installed cameras in her dayhome’s main play area, the art room and outdoor play space a few months after opening in January 2017. Parents of the six children she cares for can log on to an app at any time to view a livestream.
“It relieves some anxiety about leaving their kids in the first place, because it’s hard, especially when they are that young,” Louch said. “And then also for accountability, for both myself and the children.
“If they say something happens… I can go back and look at that incident and see, did they really push you? Or did this really happen like that?”
Louch says allowing parents to peer over her shoulder virtually has been a positive experience. She’s never had a parent call with concerns for their child’s well-being, nor has she had to use the footage to defend herself. She did save clips as evidence when she chose to remove a child from her program.
“She was hitting my dogs and pushing the other children and the children were basically scared of her,” Louch said. “So in that way, I recorded those incidents and it was over a six-month period and I decided she needed to be removed from the program… I had that proof of footage for myself if they did want to argue that.”
Florence Ann Romano, a childcare expert and former nanny, believes cameras protect children.
“We see these stories very often, and I saw one more recently where a nanny was caught abusing an autistic child,” Romano said. “[They were] sitting on him when the child was having a temper tantrum. The nanny got frustrated and sat on top of him. So these are instances that are real. And I wish evil people like that didn’t exist in this world, but you do need to be able to protect your kids.”
Provincial privacy laws determine the rules around video surveillance in childcare centres. In Ontario, centres are required to notify parents their children are being recorded and demonstrate that collecting their personal information is necessary, according to Information and Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish.
“For example, a childcare centre is legally responsible for the safety of children, and video surveillance could support the childcare centre’s efforts to ensure the children’s safety. Video surveillance could also help ensure the security of the facility,” Beamish wrote in an email to Global News.
“The use of a surveillance system for other purposes, such as to evaluate employee performance, is not likely to be acceptable under the law.”
Ontario investigators have not worked on complaints related to childcare surveillance. Alberta has, but the media relations staff for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta would not provide details.
Alyson Schafer, a family counsellor and parenting author, considers cameras in childcare settings an overstep.
“I’ve seen this certainly with the daycares and especially at camps now,” Schafer said. “Kids go off to camp and it’s supposed to be their first taste of freedom away from their parents, and now the camps have mounted cameras around the camp and the parents watch it from their desktops at home.
“What they do is they call the camp and they say, ‘My daughter is not wearing a sweater [and] I think she looks cold,’ or, ‘My daughter isn’t smiling. Somebody… [should] go over and check on her.’
“This just creates another environment for hypervigilance and helicopter parenting in the one time when kids really need to be learning, ‘I’m OK. I’m autonomous. I’ll manage.'”
Schafer advises parents who are concerned about the quality of their child’s caregiver or nanny to investigate in other ways, such as checking references, connecting via Facetime or swinging by the house spontaneously.