If you’re a parent in Ontario, you’re likely familiar with Early Years Centre, Parenting and Family Literacy Centres, Child Care Resource Centres and Better Beginnings, Better Futures programs. And if you’re not a parent, you’re probably wondering why the province runs so many different programs aimed at young children. That will soon be changing as the provincial powers-that-be are currently reviewing Ontario’s various child and family programs and will eventually be condensing them into a new system called Ontario Early Years Child and Family Centres (OEYCFCs; catchy, isn’t it?).
When I first heard about this I thought, “Great, things need to be simplified.” Right now it’s easy for parents to miss services and events that are happening right in their own backyard because they, for example, only attended Ontario Early Years Centres (OEYC) and aren’t aware of the many other options. The current fractured set-up also leads to a lot of duplication and isn’t really the best use of valuable public service dollars.
But then I heard about the second part of the province’s plans: In Toronto, it’s going to download OEYCFCs to the City. I don’t trust the City; it’s short on cash and it makes bad financial decisions (yeah, I’m talking about the Scarborough subway). This move is supposed to be accompanied by provincial funds and while I believe that will mostly happen, I worry about the money that the City currently spends on its own early childhood programming. Will it redirect that cash once the provincial money comes in, meaning fewer funds overall for Ontario’s children?
OEYCFCs are supposed to be one-stop shops for all things early childhood. Again, initially this sounds great. But it means that that some existing sites are going to lose their provincial funding, which will likely lead to some closures. I’m hoping that my local Early Years Centre, College-Montrose Children’s Place, won’t be impacted but with plans for OEYCFCs to be part of community hubs that also provide everything from settlement to employment services, I’m worried. My centre is located inside Artscape Youngplace and while it’s a fantastic building, it’s not designed or mandated to be a community hub.
There’s an old Catholic school near me that is set to spend the next few years of its life as one of these community hubs; I wouldn’t be the least be surprised if it also becomes a OEYCFC. If that happens, I hope it at least brings over the staff from CMCP.
Thankfully, these charges aren’t happening over night and the province is at least asking for parents’ input. It was running a short survey and while that’s now closed, you can also email your thoughts and concerns to your MPP. I haven’t done that yet but it is on my to-do list and if you’re a parent that uses of any provincially funded child and family program, you should do the same.