Daycare parents triumph



By filing a series of freedom of information requests that took more than 18 months, the Star obtained records detailing many disturbing incidents at daycare centres in the past three years.

Less than 24 hours after `disturbing’ Star probe, minister promises new website with reports on individual daycares

May 29, 2007 04:30 AM



The wall of secrecy surrounding abuses in daycares has tumbled less than 24 hours after a Star investigation documented troubling problems in centres across Ontario.

Parents concerned about the quality of care their children are receiving in licensed centres will soon be able to visit a ministry website listing serious incidents and inspection findings.

Mary Anne Chambers, Minister of Children and Youth Services, said yesterday her ministry will launch the website by the fall. Chambers is also considering a stronger colour-coding system in which a red licence posted at a daycare would indicate a serious problem.

Findings of the Star probe included incidents of children being physically assaulted, left to wander away in public places, fed allergy-triggering foods that nearly killed them and being forced to play in filthy surroundings. The Star found numerous cases where daycares with these problems were allowed to remain open, sometimes for years.

The cases were drawn from provincial and municipal records of inspections, enforcement, complaints and serious incidents, obtained through a series of requests under the Freedom of Information Act that took two years.

Chambers called the revelations "disturbing."

"What I read in the Toronto Star (yesterday) is unacceptable," she said. "I think parents deserve to be able to access information that relates to their child's care."

The proposed website will contain a "more robust form of reporting," including details on why a centre has a provisional licence – a tool used by the ministry to allow daycares with substandard conditions to remain open.

There are 57 daycares in the province operating under a provisional licence. White licences mean there are no problems, yellow licences are provisional. Chambers said she favours a stronger colour-coding system, similar to the well-known restaurant rating system. "When you walk up to a restaurant door you see a red label on that door and you know there's a problem. We can do that," Chambers said.

In the wake of the Star investigation, parents across the GTA flooded the newspaper with phone calls and emails with a clear message for the Ontario government: When it comes to children's safety and well-being, there should be no secrecy.

If daycares are dangerous, dirty or allow children to wander off unattended, parents should know about it, they said.

"It's a no-brainer," said Andrew Stalony, who recently entrusted care of his 15-month-old son, Ryan, to a daycare in Mississauga. "There is no question we should have the right to know what's going on. You're letting someone else take care of your child."

During Question Period at the provincial legislature yesterday, Chambers was attacked by both opposition parties for hiding the problems at daycares. "The minister and her government made efforts to keep this information under wraps for two years," Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said, referring to the length of time it took the Star to get the information.

Chambers denied this, noting that daycares with provisional licences are required to hand out a government pamphlet titled "Attention Parents. This centre does not meet all the requirements of the Day Nurseries Act."

She also said the province has hired more inspectors and now conducts unannounced reviews of daycares as well as the annual inspections. The changes protect children better, she said.

The minister said she also favours posting the data collected by the ministry on serious occurrences at daycares – ranging from children who were temporarily missing to abuse allegations, which daycares must report to the ministry.

"I agree the serious occurrences should be there. I really do want to take a look at our ability to report any kind of serious occurrence. One of the things we have to be cognizant (of) is volume of data and ability to manage 4,000 pieces of data online."

The Toronto Star investigation, based on thousands of daycare incidents, inspection reports and complaints, uncovered serious problems including children wandering off unattended, being forcibly confined in closets and storage rooms, and being served meals prepared in mice-infested kitchens. There were 5,814 serious occurrences reported by licensed daycares across Ontario in 2005-2006, including nearly 3,000 injuries, 674 missing children reports and 675 allegations of abuse or mistreatment, according to data analyzed by the Star.

One parent who contacted the Star had tried on her own to obtain similar information. Karen Krawec said she eventually gave up in frustration after trying to get information on daycare centres in York Region to help her decide whom to entrust with the care of her young son.

"I was first told that I would not be able to access the information," Krawec said. "Later on when I quoted the Freedom of Information Act, I was advised that it would be a lot of work to dig up all of the records so I would have to pay the hourly wage.

"They said it would cost hundred of dollars and (take) several months," Krawec said. "After consulting my MP, who did nothing for me, I finally gave up."

Lisa MacLeod, Tory MPP for Nepean-Carleton and her party's critic on children and youth, said there has to be absolute transparency for government-run daycares. "If we're going to be doing this for restaurants, we should be doing it for daycares," she says. "We are dealing with the physical safety and emotional well-being of our children."

Under the province's Day Nurseries Act, daycares are required to post their licence inside the daycare, where parents can see it. Provisional licences must also be posted, allowing parents to see issues in which the daycare is failing to meet minimum provincial standards.

But posting licences isn't nearly enough, say parents.

Carrie Makins has been shopping for a daycare for her two children without much information to work with, she says. "The only way of sourcing daycare is by my gut feel and word of mouth. Really, there is no information and no transparency for parents and that's unfair, because they're taking care of our kids for 40 hours a week and that's a huge influence on their life.

"You're paying these people to take care of the most precious people in your life, you need to make sure they're in good hands."

"The state of daycare in this country is appalling both in terms of the space available and the unhealthy conditions presented," said Deborah Wilson, whose daughter is in a downtown daycare.

"To think that a daycare facility can continue to operate on a provisional licence is devastating to me. I truly hope that this article will reinforce to our government that decisive action needs to be taken to improve daycare in this country."

Julie Wallis, whose two grandsons are cared for in a Toronto daycare, says Canadians are "burying their heads in the sand" on the daycare issue. "A website put forward by the provincial government is needed."

Transparency would force daycares to be more vigilant about maintaining standards, says Teresa Wong, who has a 4-year-old in daycare. "It would also make them clean up their act if they knew somebody was watching," she said.

"People forget this is a service industry and the client is the child," said Anne Eisenberg. "That's the problem, the focus isn't on the child. We lost that a long time ago.

"It's a money issue."

Daniela Fiacco, who operates the Columbus Children's Centre, says she supports parents' requests for information. "Our records are there. If parents want to see them, we let parents look at them. We have nothing to hide."

Robert Cribb and Dale Brazao can be reached at or (416) 945-8674.