Directly out of high school, Tina attended college where she trained to become an Early Childhood Educator (ECE). She has served children and their families as an ECE for 26 years. “Child care has been a fun ride,” she says, “but it is a very difficult time right now.” While Tina remains passionate about early learning and child care, she does not think ECEs are receiving the supports that they need.

Tina has worked in St. Catherines, Windsor, Kitchener, and in Michigan. 

“I have been all over the place in my career and seen a lot of different approaches to child care and I’ve witnessed varying levels of quality and an uneven playing field for all children, families, and educators,” Tina says. 

She adds that the current market-based model across the province means that there are not enough licensed child care spaces, many families cannot afford the high fees charged, and ECEs are underpaid. 

Presently, child care centres in Ontario are struggling to find enough qualified ECEs, and as a result are closing programs and/or centres entirely. Tina’s centre is licensed for more child care spaces than they are able to keep open because they cannot find any ECEs to hire. 

“Children and their families lose when we cannot fill these spaces,” Tina says. 

Tina says there are many reasons why centres are struggling with recruitment and retainment.

“We are not seen as professionals. People still refer to me and my colleagues as ‘babysitters’. It is just shocking that people are still in this mindset. It’s just a total misunderstanding of what we do and the role that we play.” she says.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the workforce crisis.

“Being paid so poorly is really frustrating when it’s such a demanding job both physically and emotionally,” Tina says and points out that the province’s current wage top-ups are not a sustainable or reasonable solution. 

“We don’t know how long the wage top-up will last, it can be revoked. And if an ECE is making minimum wage, the top-up is only bumping them to $17.00 per hour. ECEs are trained professionals— this is not acceptable.” 

Tina believes the Ontario government must sign a federal-provincial early learning and child care agreement, as every other jurisdiction in Canada has done. The government must put in place a salary grid for ECEs and then publicly fund operators sufficiently to pay the higher compensation as part of this agreement. Otherwise, ECEs will continue to be underpaid for their trained and necessary care labour, Tina says.

Tina says there are some quality ECE positions in Ontario that pay well, offer health benefits, and properly allocate funds to support classroom supplies, among other quality measures. However, to get these jobs, ECEs often have to first work as supply staff and, often, wait a long time before becoming full-time, permanent staff. 

“It shouldn’t be that two child care centres side-by-side can offer such differing levels of quality programming,” Tina says. “All children deserve quality care, and all ECEs deserve to be paid properly for their work.”

ECE duties have increased during the pandemic but low pay has remained stagnant. Tina and other ECEs at her centre must follow a rigid cleaning schedule, which includes washing all sets of sheets every day, among other duties. 

Tina notes that the Ontario government remains oblivious to the many struggles that the sector faces and has not offered any financial relief to support the pandemic measures.

It is maddening that Ontario is the only province with no federal provincial child care agreement, says Tina. 

“I really feel like Stephen Lecce and Doug Ford have such little respect for child care and for what we actually do. We are more than just a place to ‘stick your kids while you go to work.’ We are a valuable part of society that meets the needs of children of all abilities. We are just not recognized by Ford and Lecce at all,” she says.

“For the government to drag its feet and say it can’t sign because the agreement should cover the education system’s full day kindergarten program is a kick-in-the-teeth to all of us in child care,” Tina says. After all, this funding was never intended to cover the education system. “This further demonstrates Education Minister Lecce’s lack of understanding as to what child care really is.”