By Alexandra Gundy
The Ontario government announced Thursday they are investigating the death of a four-month-old infant in an unlicensed daycare in Toronto.
The child is the fourth to die in an unlicensed daycare in the Greater Toronto Area over the past seven months, putting more pressure on the Liberal government to pass proposed changes to the laws governing home care centres.
The infant was found at an apartment building at 20 Broadoaks Drive, near Keele Street and Finch Avenue West, on Feb. 14.
There is no word as of Thursday about the exact circumstances of the death. Education Minister Liz Sandals has said that both police and her ministry are probing the death, CTV News reported.
“My heart goes out to the family and loved ones of the child at this devastating time,” Sandals said in a statement to CTV news.
But advocates are already calling for greater government action.
“We’re going to continue to see tragedy in unregulated home daycares until the province is able to develop a solid policy plan,” said Lyndsay MacDonald, coordinator of the Childcare Advocacy Unit of Canada. “We can’t collect data on unregulated child care, so we don’t know how many of them are dangerous and how many of them are illegal.”
In December, the provincial government proposed changes to the system in Ontario after two children died in 2013 at unlicensed daycares.
If passed, the Child Care Modernization Act would allow licensed home daycares to take in six children instead of five. Under current law, licensed daycares must abide by strict age guidelines: only two children under the age of two are allowed, and only three children under the age of three are allowed.
Unlicensed providers do not abide by the same rules. They are allowed to care for up to five children of any age, under ten.
“This can make for some impossibly wrong scenarios,” said Leslie Wilson, vice president of Wee Watch, a childcare licensing organization. “If you are untrained and unlicensed, there is nothing stopping you from caring for five six-month old babies at once.”
Under the Childcare Mordernization Act, unregulated centres would have to abide by the same age restrictions as licensed facilities.
These proposed changes are making some care providers upset.
“This is my income, and this is my livelihood,” said Karen Patching, who has run an unregulated daycare centre out of her home in London, Ont. for almost 25 years.
Patching said she takes great pride in running her daycare and providing a safe and nurturing environment for the children she cares for. She abides by the rules, and never takes care of more than five children at a time. However, she does have concerns about proposed age limitations.
“If I’m not allowed to take in children, then I’m out of a job,” said Patching, who said she is concerned that illegally run daycares are giving unlicensed home centres like hers a bad name.
Both MacDonald and Wilson acknowledged that there are many well-run unlicensed centres in Ontario.
“An unlicensed daycare can be perfectly legal and perfectly safe,” said MacDonald. “But there are illegal unlicensed daycares where providers are taking on more children than the province allows, and that is where we enter on dangerous territory.”
In July 2013, two-year-old Eva Ravikovich died in a daycare that was being run out of a home in Vaughan. There were 27 children in the home daycare when Eva was found dead.
“Every time there is a tragedy, we say the same thing, which is we have to modernize childcare,” said Marni Flaherty, President of the Home Child Care Association of Ontario, “but things then get stalled in the political arena. So what we are saying is just do it- just get the legislation through.”