Parents of children in licensed child care in Ontario should now know if they will be getting rebates on their fees, as Tuesday was the deadline for operators to opt in or out of the national $10-a-day program.
Ontario had extended the deadline from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1 to allow operators more time sign up for the program, and about 85 per cent of operators had opted in to the program as of Friday. Most other provinces ultimately saw well over 90 per cent of eligible providers opt in.
Final numbers are expected this week. Providers who opted in had to inform parents by Tuesday of their decision.
Carolyn Ferns, the policy co-ordinator for the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, said centres that signed onto the program earlier have already been able to pass those savings along to parents.
“Families are saying they’re going to have more money for everything that they need, for groceries, or to pay off their debt, things like that,” she said.
“So now we’re starting to hear the concrete differences this is making, which is really lovely. And I think over the last several weeks more centers that were on the fence have decided to opt in.”
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Child care can cost upwards of $2,000 a month per child, particularly for the youngest children.
Many child-care operators, particularly for-profit ones, had said they wanted to sign up in order to issue rebates to parents, but were hesitant about the implications to their businesses.
The Ministry of Education made a number of changes to the funding model for this year and next, to try to ease those concerns and get maximum uptake.
Some operators said they still needed details on funding beyond next year in order to assess stability and predictability, while advocates of a non-profit system accused the government of stripping away accountability for public funds in order to appease for-profit operators.
The City of Toronto said that it would release final uptake numbers Wednesday, but as of Tuesday morning 84 per cent of licensed providers had opted in, while eight per cent had opted out and another eight per cent had not yet communicated their decision.
About 92 per cent of the city’s non-profit operators had opted in, while five per cent opted out. About 65 per cent of the for-profit operators opted in, while 16 per cent opted out. The rest hadn’t yet indicated their decision.
Kim Yeaman, who runs a child-care centre in Innisfil, Ont., said she will be among the centres counted as opting in, but has only actually applied to opt in. Because of the sign-up process, she said she will not see an actual contract from her municipality until she has applied to opt in and they have confirmed her eligibility.
“I don’t have a contract in front of me,” she said. “It’s financially irresponsible for me to just go, ‘Yeah, we’re opting in,’ when I haven’t even seen what is the funding coming back to us.”
But assuming, as the government has said, the funding is a dollar-for-dollar replacement for fee reductions to be passed on to families and there is additional funding as promised to account for inflation, Yeaman said she will opt in.
“We want to do that for the parents,” she said. “That is that is a driving force behind this whole thing for me, and this is why we’ve gone back and forth 20 times…I can’t imagine not giving that discount to those parents. So we’re going to do everything we can to opt in.”
Yeaman said she has warned the families at her centre that she may have to opt out in the future, since the ministry has said it will change how the program is funded for 2024 and beyond.
The ministry has said it is consulting with the sector and working on a revised funding formula for 2024, and that it intends to release a discussion paper on what’s envisioned.
Parents are set to receive rebates of up to 25 per cent retroactive to April 1 and a further fee reduction of 50 per cent, on average, by the end of the year. Fees are set to drop to an average of $10 a day by September 2025.