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Daycare demand soaring in Toronto region as YMCA adds more spaces

The YMCA is adding nearly 2,000 daycare spaces across the Greater Toronto Area in response to feverish demand from parents who are desperate for affordable, quality child care.

After years of decline, the number of Canadian children under the age of five and the proportion of two-income families is growing, especially in urban areas such as Toronto, where the cost of living is relatively high.

The demand is for infant and toddler spaces, as four- and five-year-olds are moving to full-day kindergarten, leaving smaller daycares to struggle without them. Larger agencies such as the YMCA have the capital necessary to respond to that need. The charity is set to announce Tuesday that it is adding 1,750 child-care spaces at 280 locations across the Greater Toronto Area, including Dufferin, Durham, Halton, Toronto, Peel and York regions. That represents about a 10-per-cent increase in the Y's capacity.

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"Infant care is very expensive but very in-demand," said Linda Cottes, senior vice-president of child and family development for the Toronto YMCA.

By law, toddlers and infants require higher staffing ratios, as low as three-to-one, compared to kindergarten-aged children who require an eight-to-one staffing ratio. There is also some expensive infrastructure associated with caring for younger children, including change tables, sinks, cots and space for nap time.

The charity – which is funded by donations, membership and user fees – struggled through the early phases of full-day kindergarten's implementation, Ms. Cottes said, but the organization was able to take advantage of some funding recently made available by Ontario's Ministry of Education to help daycares adjust to accommodating a higher proportion of younger children.

Ontario-wide, the number of spaces in child-care centres and private homes climbed 21 per cent over the last five years, to just over 311,000. But the growth isn't meeting demand. In Toronto, there are close to 19,000 low-income families waiting for a subsidized space, and even those who can afford it spend months on waiting lists only to pay the highest rates in the country.

Families in Ontario pay a median price of $12,516 a year for an infant daycare spot, according to a recent report co-authored by Carolyn Ferns, a researcher at the Childcare Resource and Research Unit.

"There's a big gap between need and provision, it's as bad as it has ever been," Ms. Ferns said.

Those rates are likely to continue climbing thanks to full-day kindergarten. "It's more expensive to provide care for infants and toddlers," Ms. Ferns said. "Four– and five-year-old care was sort of subsidizing the care of infant and toddlers."

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The announcement came a little more than a week after families at the Perth Academy for Early Learning were informed that due to financial challenges, the parent-run not-for-profit's six locations would close in August unless the board of directors could find new providers to take over each site.

Juliana Trichilo Cina, a board member at Perth Academy, refused to discuss the details of the daycare closings with The Globe and Mail, but acknowledged that full-day kindergarten played a role.

"It would be fair to say it affected the entire industry," she said.

Parents were left reeling at the news of the closings. Daycare spots can be impossible to find on such short notice.

"There's nowhere else in the neighbourhood without a month's-long wait list," said Charlotte Sherpa, whose three-year-old daughter, Madelena, attends Perth's Junction Triangle location.

Parents were informed over the weekend that a new provider had been found for the Junction Triangle location, but Ms. Sherpa said questions lingered over what changes would come with the new management – whether the staff would be allowed to stay, and if costs would rise.

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"I'm sure that their rates will rise," she said. "It was really an affordable place, but I hope that we can swing it and that the other families will be able to afford it too."

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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