If you want to be sure that your baby will have a spot at a daycare, you better start your hunt right away. Brace yourself for a long search (especially if you’re living in a big city). You can expect plenty of unreturned phone calls and excruciatingly obscure, impenetrable waiting lists.
Nowadays parents can get so desperate for a daycare spot that they are camping out to ensure their child’s coveted spot at a popular place. Just talk to some random young parents and almost all of them have horror stories.
For infants (up to 18 months), it’s almost mission impossible when it comes to finding an affordable spot at a daycare. Not every centre accepts infants, so spaces are even more limited. Furthermore, the centres tend to charge more for infants. The difference in price between a spot for an infant and a toddler (18–36 months) can go up to about $300 a month.
Quebec is known for its publicly funded $7-a-day daycare. That sounds promising. But Katja Buhl and many other parents who live in Quebec know the reality is not that rosy. Katja, who lives in Montréal, put her first son, Benny, on many waiting lists before he was born. It was no use; no $7 spaces were available. Her second son was born last summer, and this time around, she’s not even bothering with the waiting lists. “I know there’s no point.” She is lucky that she and her husband can afford private daycare.
For 40 years, the waiting lists have been a constant source of chagrin for Child Care Canada executive director Martha Friendly. ”It’s frustrating. It’s maddening. Waiting lists are only one illustration of the problem though. Quality is an issue as well. Both are a problem everywhere in Canada.”
As if waiting lists aren’t terrible enough, increasing numbers of childcare centres charge parents money to put their names on a waiting list. Friendly thinks provincial governments should act against these practices: “It’s immoral. If you’re low income, it’s a barrier to how many waiting lists you can go on.”
A first step to create more transparency for parents and administrators would be city-wide, online waiting list registers. Ideally, parents should know which centres have spots available and where their child is on various lists. Cooperation of all child care centres and home care agencies is essential, as well as their true commitment to use only this centralized waiting list. In Ottawa, the centralized waiting list is far from perfect, since many daycare centres also keep their own separate lists.
Unfortunately parents (and parents-to-be) have to accept that the ongoing trend remains waiting and more waiting. Here are things to consider:
Know What’s Important to You
Before you start your search, figure out what you’re looking for. Ask yourself:
- Would a home daycare be an option for me? Or do I only want to send my child to a daycare regulated by provincial or territorial standards?
- How much time do I want my child to spend at daycare? Do I need flexible hours?
- Would my child be better off at a small, family daycare or at a bigger daycare centre?
- What can I afford?
Register as Early as Possible
OK, registering before conception is too soon, meaning: daycare centres will probably ask you for a due date. Many people choose to register pre-baby. If you weren’t one of those well-in-advance-planners, start looking for daycare now. Right now. Go.
Look on the Internet and Ask Around
The Internet is packed with resources. Toronto has a ‘childcare finder’ where you can search for licensed (home) child care in your neighbourhood: toronto.ca/children/childcare.htm. In Vancouver, you can have a look at theshortylist.ca. If you’re living in Quebec, magarderie.com might be helpful for finding available daycare spots. And do ask family and friends about their childcare experiences.
Visit and Ask Questions
Of course you want to have a look at any place you might leave your child. Keep some questions in mind like:
- What’s your first impression?
- Is the staff qualified and caring?
- What is the staff-to-child ratio?
- What food is being served?
- Is the environment safe and clean?
- What type of activities and equipment are available?
Listen to Your Gut Feeling
You can’t pinpoint the problem you’re having with a certain daycare? You don’t have to. Foremost, it has to feel right.