Ontario Bans ‘Unfair’ Wait-List Fees for Daycare Spots
Parents will no longer have to pay wait-list fees for daycare spots starting in September
By Rob Ferguson Queen’s Park Bureau Tues., Aug. 2, 2016
Ontario is banning wait-list fees for daycare spots, but activists say more spaces are needed to ease the scramble that stresses thousands of new parents.
Education Minister Mitzie Hunter announced the long-awaited restriction Tuesday, saying it will take effect Sept. 1 and eliminate charges that typically range from $20 to $200.
Families told the Star in stories last spring that they have paid hundreds of dollars to several daycare centres in hopes of landing a spot — but have no guarantee of results for the substantial outlay of cash.
“Parents have been clear. They want this unfair practice of wait-list fees to stop,” Hunter said at the West End YMCA child-care centre on College St.
“It takes advantage of them.”
The scrapping of fees would have made a big difference to Rose Qiang, whose son, Blake Tran, was on five wait-lists for more than two years after he was born.
Blake, now 7, got into daycare a week before Qiang was due to return to work, and at that point she had already paid to hold his spot a private, for-profit daycare.
“I couldn’t risk it. I actually had to pay the wait-list fee and a deposit,” she said, though she was unable to remember how much the fee was.
She ended up missing the deadline for a refund, and lost $1,900. With her second child, 2-year-old Scarlett Tran, Qiang made sure to apply when she was three months pregnant to get a spot sooner. Scarlett now attends the same daycare her brother did.
“That would be fantastic, because being a parent of two, you’re so strapped for cash,” she said.
The ban is being imposed by regulations that will also give daycare centres until Jan. 1 to make wait-list policies public to ensure “transparency,” Hunter said.
That means parents will be able to find out where their child’s name stands on the list and the criteria for being offered a spot — a sore point for many parents who feel some daycares are playing favourites.
“You hear stories about people baking cookies, jumping the queue, using their connections,” said Nadine Blum, a Toronto lawyer who, with colleague Kelly Doctor, launched a petition last spring to push the government to ban the wait-list fees.
Blum got fed up after one daycare asked for a $150 fee to put her son, now 2, on the list, when she’d already laid out a few hundred dollars at other centres and was on as many as 20 or 30 lists.
The petition helped prompt Premier Kathleen Wynne to promise an end to the controversial charges, while New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) proposed a ban in a private member’s bill.
“I’m glad that after more than a decade in government the Liberals are finally listening to parents on this issue,” said deputy NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
“This is a step in the right direction, but there is more to do, like creating more affordable child care spaces so moms and dads don’t face these wait-lists in the first place.”
With competition for spaces tight, particularly in Toronto where there are spots for just 21 per cent of children under age 5, activists echoed the call for more daycare funding, which now costs provincial taxpayers more than $1 billion annually for about 350,000 licensed spaces.
The shortage has allowed daycare centres to get away with charging what the market will bear for waiting lists, said Doctor, who works with Blum at the labour law firm Goldblatt Partners LLP.
“There’s a lot of bigger issues to be addressed,” added Doctor, who described wait-list fees as “barriers” to low-income families seeking child care and to new moms seeking to find jobs or resume their careers after maternity leave.
“We need a system we can all get into for daycare, like a school system,” said east-end mother Sara Ehrhardt, who called for more planning around daycare to meet the needs of parents and children.
“I took an extra nine months off because I couldn’t get care for a 9-month-old,” added Ehrhardt, an engineer and mother of 14-month-old Clarence.
She and her husband, Glenn Gustafson, spent about $400 on wait-list fees to get a spot for Clarence, who will now start daycare in November, but only after the couple agreed to pay fees until then to hold the spot for him.
The Association of Day Care Operators of Ontario said only a “small number” of daycares charge the wait-list fees, which were intended to offset administrative costs.
“They take that seriously,” said spokeswoman Andrea Hannen, noting it takes considerable staff time to make the calls necessary to administer a list, offer spots to parents, wait to hear back and filter out parents who have found spots elsewhere.
One daycare operator, who requested anonymity, said her centre’s wait-list fee of $40 is applied to the family’s registration once a spot is offered.
“If there is no cost, our wait-lists will be miles long and a nightmare to manage. The staffing cost to manage this list will increase fees,” she warned.
“The focus should be on creating more spaces so agencies are not forced to manage such huge lists.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said he was pleased the Wynne Liberals are “finally listening to parents, ending a practice that punished Ontario families with yet another barrier to accessing child care.”
Fees for wait-lists were a problem because they give families “a false sense of hope,” said YMCA general manager Jillian Sewell, who noted the Y has not charged wait-list fees in years.