The long-awaited reopening of Kids Korner has created a financial strain, adding additional costs to existing expenses, says Mussarat Ali, owner of the East York-based home daycare.
“The cost of masks, sanitizers and wipes is very high,” Ali said. “It is a big financial challenge for me.”
She also has fewer children because some clients are not bringing their kids back due to COVID-19 concerns.
This has considerably affected Ali’s income, while she still needs to pay rent for the space.
“I was using it for five children — now I’m using the same space for only for two,” she said.
Similar financial pressures have affected many other Toronto child care centres since on June 12 they were allowed to resume operations after a four-month shutdown, said Abigail Doris, executive director of the Toronto Community for Better Child Care,
“The cost of operating and reopening child care has gone up because we’re going to collect fewer fees,” Doris said.
Reopening during the pandemic implies fewer children visiting childcare centres on a daily basis, she said. Facilities face lower revenue, along with higher expenses from the required safety precautions.
To safely open the doors for children amid the COVID-19 crisis, child care providers are required to implement frequent screening, enhanced cleaning and reduced cohort sizes. Children each must have individual programs to remain six feet apart whenever possible.
Any fees the centres take in from families go directly to pay staff, rent, and buy resources, Doris said.
The solution is government assistance, she said.
“Childcare centres truly need funding to reopen and support families, and still be able to employ early childhood educators.”
Children may get bored
Ali reopened Kids Corner on June 22, more than a week after the reopening announcement to have enough time to set up necessary precautions.
One of the biggest issues she had to resolve was installing separate and distant stations where children can play without interacting with each other.
“We used to go for a walk, play in parks, visit community centres. We had interactions with other kids and families,” she recalled. “But now we don’t.”
She worries the children will get bored very quickly with all their separate individual activities.
“We have to think out of the box to drive more interest in their activities,” Ali said. “They need to interact with someone, even with an adult.”
She also needs to prevent the children who are under four from putting toys in their mouths, which means she has to monitor them constantly.
If the children touch toys that do not belong to them, she has to wash and disinfect them right away.
For her part, Ali has stopped visiting public places to make sure she does not contract the virus.
“It’s not easy for me. It’s not usual. I have more than ten years of experience working with kids, but this time it’s tough to maintain everything in terms of cleaning and disinfection,” Ali said.
Different child care facilities had to adapt to reopening in different ways, as well as choose the most suitable date for opening.
“Most centres haven’t opened yet, and many of them won’t be opening until July, August, or in September,” Doris said. “They want to make sure they can make their reopening safe for children and educators. We only get one chance to reopen child care.”
Child care directors have been putting in “countless hours of research and training,” she said.
Amanda Munday, director of The Workaround child care on Danforth Avenue, said before the pandemic, the facility could have a maximum of 15 toddlers a day. The Workaround also had two educators who looked after the children.
“We’re a private childcare centre that runs a drop-in … so families could drop their kids off for a few hours and get some work done,” Munday said.
“And now because of COVID-19, we can’t do cohorts. We can’t do drop-in. So we’ve moved to a full-time model, which is different from what we normally did.”
Now with current restrictions, the number of children has reduced to seven as the child care has hired one more educator to watch the toddlers.
“We could have a maximum of 75 different children a week, which is 15 a day,” Munday said. “And now it has to be the same seven kids every day.”
It’s not the same families using The Workaround now, she finds. “It’s people who need full-time care versus hourly dropping.”
Doris said limited spaces for children is one of the main problems families are facing right now.
“There will be fewer children in each room or in each cohort with their educators,” she said. “But that means that a lot of parents won’t necessarily have access to child care spaces for their children.
In order to prepare for reopening and train the staff properly, Munday decided to resume operations in The Workaround only on July 13, a month after child care centres could reopen.
“This is all new for us. It is as much about preparation as possible,” she said. “And one of the reasons why we didn’t open quickly was that we wanted to make sure we took the time to get everything right.”
So far the government has not provided any support to help implement safety precautions, she said.
“There have been guidelines and training that we’ve taken advantage of. Still, there is a hefty cost to reopening at a smaller capacity, and it would be nice if the government provided some financial support for that,” Munday said.
Making a difference
COVID-19 has unveiled significant gaps in the funding of Canadian child care centres, Doris said.
“It brought to light pre-existing issues within how it’s delivered,” she said. “Child care system in Canada is already quite underfunded. The closure period has really demonstrated how fragile it is.”
Doris said it is important to engage with all levels of government as they play different roles in childcare funding.
“There have been people advocating for more than 30 years to make changes, but they come really slowly,” Doris said. “The more people take part in child care advocacy, the more changes we can create together.”