The death of a toddler at an unlicensed home daycare in Vaughan is raising questions about the safety of such centres.

According to childcare experts, many working parents end up turning to unlicensed facilities due to the critical shortage of licensed daycare spaces in Ontario.

"What we have in the regulated childcare system is enough space for about 20 per cent of children," Martha Friendly, the director of Child Care Canada, told CTV News Channel on Thursday.

She said many parents are often put on a long waiting list to enroll their child in a licensed facility -- leaving them with only one option: unlicensed daycares.

Friendly said she doesn’t know how many unlicensed home daycares are currently in operation but said they often operate in a “grey world” where no one is checking in on them.

"We’re not taking care of children well in unregulated situations."

York Region police on Monday found a two-year-old child without vital signs at a home near Dufferin Street and Highway 407. Paramedics had performed CPR on the child but the toddler was pronounced dead at the scene.

Two investigations into the death of the toddler have been launched -- one by the province’s coroner’s office to investigate the cause of death, and a second by the Ministry of Education into whether it was meeting its legislative requirements as a daycare.

According to York Region, home-based unlicensed child care providers can take care of a maximum of five children under the age of 10, in addition to their own.

Officials have not said how many children were being looked after at the Vaughn daycare but a neighbour told CTV Toronto that he had often seen large numbers of children being dropped off at the daycare.

"The parents will come in the morning, drop the kids off, and then the school bus will come and pick them up from here," neighbour Barrington Johnson said.

The daycare’s operator received a complaint about its facility in 2012. At the time, seven children under the age of 10 were located on the premises. The daycare was ordered to reduce the number of children under the age of 10 to comply with the law.

After the child was found on Monday night, public health officials investigated the home. They found health hazards related to food safety and infection prevention, but there is currently no indication that these hazards led to the toddler’s death.

The other children who were inside the daycare at the time of the death have not been quarantined, an official with York Region public health told CTV Toronto.

The daycare has been forced to close as the investigations take place.

Safety tips for parents

Linda Starr, a spokesperson for Kids & Company, says it’s “really important” for parents to do their homework and research their child’s daycare.

In addition to inquiring if the daycare is licensed by the Ministry of Education, Starr said parents should also:

  1. Know who the caregivers are. "It’s exceptionally" important for parents to ask if the caregivers have been screened by police, if they have an early childhood education certificate and if they have CPR training, Starr told CTV News Channel on Thursday.
  2. Know how food is prepared and stored. Starr said parents should also be aware if the facility is capable of handling special dietary requirements and restrictions.
  3. Know what the facility’s emergency procedures are

Starr said if a parent has a concern about their child’s daycare facility, they should call the Ministry of Education and report the problem.