(File photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

Hundreds of new daycare spots across Prescott-Russell; future expansion uncertain

More than 400 new daycare spots have opened across Prescott-Russell in the past year and a half.

Anne Comtois Lalonde, director of social services for the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR), presented the figure for the first time at its latest council meeting.

Since February 2017, Ontario’s Child Care Expansion Plan has helped open 139 new spots for children up to four, while the Canada-Ontario Early Learning and Child Care Agreement has helped open another 275 for children up to 12 since September of last year.

Demand in Prescott-Russell

Danika Joly, the UCPR’s supervisor of child care services, says local families are especially interested in daycares for babies. Unfortunately those are also the most expensive to operate since the staff to child ratio is one to three rather than one to eight as for for older kids.

Comtois Lalonde adds that’s why they’re also more expensive for parents.

Part of reasoning for the the two programs above was to help reduce daycare fees. On July 1, the UCPR launched its Child Care Affordability Pilot Program. A letter sent to parents explains the program “will fund part of the daily rates for each age group,” through a per diem.

See the letter below.

As for the geographic breakdown of the new spots, Comtois Lalonde says they aren’t focused on any particular area but larger municipalities have gotten more simply due to the sheer fact that more children live there.

A balancing act

As part of the program, a new before and after-school daycare opened at Pleasant Corners Public School (PCPS) last September.

Since then Sylvie Labrèche, the daycare’s supervisor, says it’s grown consistently. In March, it opened a second 15-spot group and is now in the process of adding a third in September.

While Labrèche agrees the expansion of the current programs are great, she says there’s demand for another service: pre-school.  

In May and June, the daycare tried adding a pre-school program but Labrèche says the UCPR refused due to duplication of services. According to her, the UCPR told her there were already pre-school services at Saint-Grégoire elementary and Paul VI in Hawkesbury, both of which had availability.

But to Labrèche, the comparison is like “apples and oranges.” PCPS’s pre-school program would mainly serve anglophone kids who are likely to attend the school in the next few years.

Asked for comment on the situation, Comtois Lalonde confirmed there had been discussions about a possible pre-school program but wouldn’t go into details. She added that the door was still open to the program in the future.

The daycare is one of six operated by Les Petits Trésors across Prescott-Russell. Labrèche says half are in French Catholic schools and the other three serve a different clientele.

So far, the one in PCPS has been able to keep up with demand for its before and after-school programs, and hasn’t needed to start a waitlist.

Labrèche sympathizes with parents who have trouble finding daycare spots.

“Often, it’s outside our control,” says Labrèche. “It’s hard for parents… but there are many explanations. It’s even frustrating for us because we’d like to help more but we can’t.”

Future of programs uncertain

With the new Ford government, Comtois Lalonde says she’s unsure if the programs will continue.

“The previous government was moving forward with financing and was continuing to develop more daycare spaces,” she says. “With the new government we haven’t heard anything.”

Comtois Lalonde adds this is why the UCPR’s pilot program will only last until the end of this year.

“We don’t know next year’s commitment.”

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