Impending closure of west-end Toronto daycare leaves parents of 175 children scrambling

Kathleen Killin, a member of the parent council at Carmelite Day Nursery, says news of the closure is 'devastating.'   (CBC - image credit)
Kathleen Killin, a member of the parent council at Carmelite Day Nursery, says news of the closure is 'devastating.' (CBC - image credit)

Parents of children at a west-end daycare set to close in six months appealed to the Ontario government on Friday to improve access to child-care spaces in Toronto.

Jessica Bell, MPP for University-Rosedale, said the parents of children at Carmelite Day Nursery near Dundas Street West and Ossington Avenue, will have to find spaces for their children once the daycare closes on July 31. The location has spots for 175 children from newborn to school age.

"Carmelite is a beloved community daycare centre that provided care to thousands of local families since it was founded over 100 years ago," the NDP MPP said at a news conference on Friday.

"Everyone here is devastated by its closure... Parents are worried. They're stressed. They don't know if they are going to be able to keep their jobs because they need to have their kids in high quality, safe child care in order for them to go to work and feel comfortable about it. And they don't know what to do."

Carmelite Day Nursery, a not-for-profit Toronto childcare organization that opened in 1920, was established by the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. The nursery has two locations, both of which are closing. The second location, at Pope Francis Catholic School, has 30 spaces for school-aged children.

The nursery is closing because the Carmelite sisters have decided they want "this chapter of their service to come to an end." In a statement on their website, the sisters said it was a "very difficult decision" to close the locations.

Jessica Bell
Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell, MPP for University-Rosedale, says the NDP wants the province to revise its daycare funding formula to child-care centres to ensure the centres get the funding they need. (CBC)

Bell said parents who are making calls for new spots in the neighbourhood are finding there are only wait lists available.

The Ford government needs to work with local school boards and daycare operators to help them expand access and meet the demand for care, she said.

Closure a 'devastating loss,' parent says

Kathleen Killin, a member of the parent council at Carmelite, said the parent council is asking the sisters to delay the closing to give parents more time to find new spots.

"This is a devastating, devastating loss to all of us," she said. "We don't know what to do. We've fallen through the cracks. We need time."

Laura Willett, a mother to a three-month old and a toddler, said she learned of the upcoming closure last week. She says the news is especially stressful given she has to go back to work in seven months when her maternity leave ends.

Willet said the staff at Carmelite are kind, caring and have given "immeasurable love" to the children in their care.

When she was pregnant with her second child, she said the daycare director told her not to worry because she had saved a spot for the new baby and so Willett didn't put her on any wait lists. Now she said she is scrambling to find infant and toddler care.

"I'm really very concerned...when I go back to work, how the lack of quality, affordable care in this area will impact my life, my career and my children really," she said.

Laura Willett with 3-month-old Myla
Laura Willett with 3-month-old Myla

Laura Willett, a mother of two, is pictured here with three-month-old Myla. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

News of the closure comes as other child-care operators in Ontario are warning that centres are at risk of closure if the province doesn't soon update how it compensates them under the $10-a-day program. The funding model is leaving child-care operators with unsustainable levels of debt, they say.

Bell said the NDP also wants the province to revise its daycare funding formula to child-care centres to ensure the centres get the funding they need. That means enough funding for the centres to cover costs and to pay workers properly, she added.

"Carmelite's closure comes at a time when daycares across the province are at risk of closing due to funding pressures. Ford's Conservatives have failed to deliver a subsidized childcare program that covers the costs of running daycares, recruiting and retaining staff, instead of forcing stagnant and low wages," Bell said in a news release on Wednesday.

City to work on contingency plan for families

The province, however, said it believes the city will help the individual families in this case.

"We have full confidence in the City of Toronto as they develop a contingency plan to support these families over the next seven months," Isha Chaudhuri, spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in an email on Friday.

"We will continue to ensure we are lowering fees for parents and building new child-care spaces. In Toronto we have created 9,000 new spaces and we are committed to building 18,000 net new affordable child-care spaces for Toronto families by 2026."

The province said a review of $10 a day child-care program with the federal government is also set to begin.

Shanley McNamee, general manager of children services at the city, said in an email on Friday it will try to help the families affected by the impending closure.

"The city recognizes the significant impact the Carmelite Day Nursery closure will have on families and will be working closely with community partners and agencies to explore alternative child care options for these families," McNamee said.

"The City is committed to expanding child-care spaces to ensure that accessible and high quality child care is available and will actively work with new operators who are interested in creating new or additional spaces within the community."