'I don’t want to make my family sick': Staff protest planned reopening of child-care centres
TORONTO -- Child-care centres were given the green light to reopen on Friday, but a drive across the city showed CTV News Toronto that very few — if any — were back in business.
Instead, a group of child-care operators and staff could be found protesting outside Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s constituency office. Holding signs and chanting “safety first,” they expressed their frustration about what they are calling an unworkable, unsafe directive.
“You have to develop a plan, you have to do risk assessment, you have to train staff,” said early childhood educator Janet Teibo. “It’s impossible to do that if you didn’t know what it was going to look like. And we didn’t know what it was going to look like until Tuesday night.”
The province announced child-care centres could reopen just three days earlier, and operators say they were only given the new guidelines around 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Stringent new rules — some 21 pages in all — detailed increased cleaning and screening procedures. Meanwhile, the facilities will be operating at reduced capacity due to social distancing.
“So you’re going to need extra staff with fewer kids paying a fee to be there, and no one can afford to be open under those conditions,” said industry advocate, Katherine Schulz.
While protestors stood outside the premier’s Etobicoke office, approximately 600 people rallied online today. They too said child-care centres need more time, more money and more support to implement the host of new COVID-19 regulations.
The Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario (AECEO) says enhanced guideline requirements will increase workloads and add at least 30 per cent to operational costs.
“We’re hoping the government steps up, provides two to three times the amount of funding that programs were getting before closure, so that we can open in a way that’s really safe for children and safe for educators,” said Alana Powell, AECEO’s executive co-ordinator.
The concern for safety — for both themselves and the children they care for — was echoed by all of the staff CTV News Toronto spoke with on Friday.
“We can’t do this, it’s unsafe,” said early childhood educator Patricia Attia as she fought tears. “I don’t want to make my family sick, and the people that I love at work sick as well. We need funding.”
Early childhood educator Natasha Garrick said she’s concerned about protective attire.
“What about PPE? The centre is not going to be able to provide that without funding, right? So if I go to work and I’m not protected, what’s going to happen? I’m not safe. I have to go home to my family.”
Child-care educators say the province gave parents “false hope” and now they’re facing a lot of pressure to open their doors. Meanwhile, Ford said on Thursday that any centres that aren’t ready to open, shouldn’t “rush” to do so.