Province providing county with $3.8-million influx for childcare initiatives

County receiving total of $31.8 million through federally-funded early learning childcare program in 2024

GUELPH – Wellington County is receiving an additional $3.8 million in Canada-Wide Early Learning Child Care (CWELCC) program funding this year.

The county was originally allocated $28 million in November through the federally-funded program, which aims to reduce what parents pay for licensed childcare.

Including the additional dollars, the county is receiving $31.8 million through the CWELCC program.

The cash is to be used to increase this year’s base and upper wage limits for early childhood educators, program staff, supervisors and child care visitors within the CWELCC system.

Base hourly wages for program staff are increasing from $19 to $23.86. For supervisors and home child care visitors, the hourly wage increase is from $21 to $24.86.

Relative to earning potential in 2023, the upper wage limit or ceiling for program staff has expanded from $25 to $26 per hour, and for supervisors and home care visitors, the limit is expanded from $28 to $29.

With the aim of opening more child care spaces, the government has also relaxed restrictions for startup funding by removing a per-square foot funding cap, reducing the number of new spaces required for a grant, and slightly increasing grants available from $1,000 to $1,200 per space created, to a max of $7,200 per provider.

All of the above measures are retroactive to the beginning of the year.

“What that means is operators looking to create new spaces will have access to a greater amount of funding,” county early years director Mandy Koroniak said at the May 8 meeting of the Wellington-Guelph social services committee.

Koroniak said a previous funding cap of $90 per square foot was “not truly sufficient.”

Potential funding has increased by more than double, she added, because the number of new spaces needed for funding is drastically reduced.

Koroniak hopes those measures make the CWELCC program “more attractive” to county operators thinking of expanding.

Federal tax dollars totalling $257,829 are also being provided to fund a paid professional learning day, with the aim of improving early childcare educator recruitment and retention.

As part of Ontario’s agreement with the feds for the CWELCC program, and the federal government’s promise to bring childcare costs to an average of $10 per day by 2025, the province committed to opening 86,000 new licensed childcare spaces.

The county’s cut of that is 1,608 CWELCC spaces (all licensed and within the community, as opposed to school-based spaces).

As of March, the county had 610 full-day, centre-based spaces for infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children; 322 kindergarten, centre-based spaces; and 47 licensed home-based spaces for infants through to kindergarten.

As the Advertiser previously reported, the county held a public information session in March addressing its challenges to meet the needs of local parents struggling to find licensed and subsidized childcare amid space shortages.

One of around 30 women who attended the session stood at the front of the room with tears running down her cheeks as she tried to summon the words between sobs to convey “how real this crisis is.”

“It shouldn’t be this hard,” county councillor Diane Ballantyne said at the March session, adding she had received “more concerns from residents connected to the lack of childcare in this community than any other issue.”

At last week’s meeting, county Warden Andy Lennox said “there’s a widely held recognition that there’s way more need than there is service level … we are relying on third parties to deliver that.”

The more child care providers the county can incentivize through tax dollars, the better chance it has of meeting its target, the warden added.

County social services administrator Luisa Artuso, who has been the most outspoken county official on the topic, is adamant a publicly-funded childcare system is preferable over for-profit options.

“It has proven to provide a better quality childcare program; basically the wages compensation and everything that it provides is similar to that of the school system,” Artuso said on May 8.

She also noted a value-for-money audit, which the province has told the county to complete, exclusively targets publicly-operated childcare programs.

“We’re starting to see this big shift in a lot of the childcare spaces being aimed towards, and more attractive to, the for-profit sector,” Artuso said, adding the county must find ways to support not-for-profits that cannot afford to expand.

As previously reported by the Advertiser in March, a government official close to education minister Stephen Lecce told a reporter the audit is meant to examine how tax dollars are being spent, as the province nears a review of the CWELCC program with the feds.

Ontario is unique in that the province provides federal dollars, through the Ministry of Education, but it tasks municipalities with administering the funds and delivering child care.

The ministry official told the Advertiser the audit won’t affect funding levels, but said the county would need to implement an auditor’s recommendations.