Jeff Green | Aug 04, 2005
Feature article, August 4, 2005
Feature article August 4, 2005LAND O' LAKES NewsWeb Home
Province announces long-awaited early childhood plan
by Jeff Green
Soon after the Mcguinty government took office in the fall of 2003 and established a Ministry of Children and Youth Services, planning began on a government level for improved access to daycare and early learning.
It has taken almost two years to work out a model for the new system, partly because funding arrangements between levels of government were hard to work out.
This spring many municipalities throughout the Province, including the City of Kingston, which administered funding for Frontenac County, opted out of a proposal which would have seen 20% of the cost of any new daycare space or early learning initiative covered by municipal taxation.
In the end, the Province of Ontario decided to fund the entire expansion of service from their own budget, making use as well of a $1.1 billion transfer from the Federal Government over the next three years.
The Best Start Plan, as it has been dubbed, includes a long-awaited change in the way daycare subsidies are calculated. While final details have not been announced, Paul Dowig, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, told the News, Introduction of a sliding scale income test will begin in 2006, and each year the number of families eligible for subsidy will be increased.
Childcare advocates have long argued that the current subsidy system, which gives full subsidy to very low income families but no subsidy at all to low and moderate income families, is often an impediment to accessing licensed childcare. Last year the provincial government announced that a sliding scale would make partial subsides available for families with annual incomes up to $75,000.
In rural Frontenac County, licensed childcare is offered at the Child Centre in Sharbot Lake, and in South Frontenac a network of licensed home childcare centres is being established by Central Frontenac Community Services.
Ontario Early Years Centres, set up by the previous government, will continue to play an important role in Ontarios early learning and care system, both as service providers and as members of local Best Start networks, Paul Dowig said.
The Best Start system will bring a new partner into early years services, public schools.
The Ministry of Children and Youth Services has implemented a schools first policy. Schools will be the first choice for the expansion of childcare as part of Best Start, Dowig said, and added, the decision to expand childcare services will be driven by available space and community needs.
In communities where schools are not viable because there is no surplus space, other locations for childcare and other services will be considered.
The Best Start Plan also includes early screening for the estimated 130,000 children born each year in Ontario; ongoing support for parents of very young children; and a strengthening of existing hearing, speech, and language programs. Checkups for babies 18 months old will also be implemented, including vision screening
The Best Start Plan is based on a community hub model; services are designed to be accessed at a central location.
In the coming months, local planning will take place to implement the Best Start Plan across the province.