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By Ying Chi Yip

Hilary Dean, a third-year film student and a mother of a two-year-old has been on the Ryerson Early Learning Centre waiting list for nearly a year.

“I applied for the Ryerson ELC last February,” she said in an e-mail. “It wasn’t nearly enough time. The day care situation in the city is so tight that a lot of parents apply during pregnancy.”

Although satisfied with her current daycare in Cabbagetown, Dean still wants to put her son in the ELC. But a limited number of spots and high demand leave her name on a list and her little boy out of the playground.

Monica Lysack, executive director of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada says only 15 per cent of parents have access to childcare for their children. The rest either find other methods or, like Dean, pay even higher prices for private daycares.

This crisis is especially catastrophic in post-secondary institutions because of student-parents’ need to find a place for their children when they are in class, Lysack said.

The ELC is a subsidized daycare providing early learning programs and daytime care for up to 60 infants, toddlers, and pre-school kindergarten children at a cost of $50 per day.

Although Ryerson students have top priority for the ELC, the current waiting list includes 600 people, leaving little ones a two-year wait for a spot. “First, we don’t have enough space. Second, our turnover rate is very small; it’s a domino effect: the pre-school kindergartens leave for public school, the toddlers fill their space, and then the infants fill the toddlers’ space,” ELC Coordinator Sally Kotsopoulous said.

Approximately 10 pre-schoolers are enroled in junior and senior kindergarten each year, limiting the ELC to accept no more than a maximum of 18 children every year. Ryerson does have a back-up plan.

“There are probably 150 families that come to us every year,” said Astrid Soto, the co-ordinator of the Drop-In Program at the Gerrard Resource Centre.

Aside from childcare referral, the GRC also provides drop-in services, emergency and special needs programs and a toy-lending library.

“The child-care referral will give them the contacts, information and waiting lists of the day cares in Toronto or in their neighbourhoods. Parents can wait from a week to a year,” Soto said.

Likewise, York University seems to have the same issues. With twice as many spaces as the ELC, the York University Cooperative Daycare Centre, a subsidized day care for children from six weeks to 10 years old, still has a one-year waiting period, said Colleen Hefferhan, a member at the daycare.

The Family Care Office in the University of Toronto offers a diversity of services ranging from parenting, child supports, children’s programs, and child care services in every campus.

The average price for all age groups is $50 per day with a capacity of 50 children. And like York and Ryerson, the waiting lists are lengthy. Lysack criticizes the government’s inability to provide for student-parents’ rising need for childcare in post-secondary institutions. “Canada’s child-care plan lags at the very bottom. It’s expensive and it’s inaccessible especially for infants and toddlers,” she said.

While Canada ranks as the fourth wealthiest country, Canadian childcare services rank dead last in the developed world, she adds.

“The kid that Madonna adopted in Malawi has a higher chance of getting child care than the kids in Canada.”

For parents, it’s not just a matter of making the top of the list. Before entering the ELC, the Toronto Services Assessment must give the centre a report that describes the applicant’s financial situation, including assets, financial abilities, and income, including OSAP.

Dean, along with many other student-parents who use OSAP, is irritated. “OSAP is not income; it is a black pit of debt. But if I wasn’t on OSAP, I’d be charged less for subsidy, which makes no sense,” she said.

The small group of parents who utilize the services of the ELC, however, say they couldn’t be happier. One father, who identified himself as Nadir George, brings his 19-month old daughter to the ELC.

“The ELC is very effective. Without it either my wife or I will have to stay home and give up our jobs.”

But Dean’s chances of getting into the centre before next semester are slim. “As of September, I was 17th on the waiting list. I like my current daycare, but the ELC is like a toddler Shangri-La,” she said.

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