The provincial government has added to its list of essential services that can access emergency child care, but some concerns remain about the safety and continued viability of a sector that is reeling from COVID-19.
On Wednesday, premier Doug Ford announced workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, meat processing and retirement homes are among those who now have access to free emergency child care during the COVID-19 crisis.
"While our frontline workers are looking after us, we need to make sure we're looking after them and their families," said Ford a press release sent Wednesday. "Providing emergency child care for our essential workers gives parents one less thing to worry about when they're on the job saving lives, protecting us, or keeping shelves stocked with food and necessities."
Locals 175 and 633 of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) represents about 70,000 workers in the food processing and retail sectors in Ontario, including meat processing and grocery employees in Guelph.
Tim Deelstra, a media relations strategist for the locals, welcomes the new availability of child care for the members, but said he has some concerns because there are only a small number of spaces available.
"People need this, we understand the value of it and it's a nice recognition of the important role that our folks are playing, there just might not be access for the people who end up needing it," said Deelstra.
Currently there is only one emergency child care centre open in Guelph, at the Willowdale Child Care and Learning Centre on Willow Road. The Wellington Place Child Care and Learning Centre is the only centre currently open for Wellington County.
Deelstra also said recent news of an outbreak at a Toronto-area emergency child care centre is deeply concerning.
“While it is a good thing to provide access to these child care centres for people who may be looking for it, at the same time we want to make sure that people are as safe and protected as they can be,” said Deelstra.
Recently, the County of Wellington put out an appeal for child care workers to meet the demand in the county.
On Wednesday, Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner welcomed the expanded list of workers in the province who can access free child care, but need the child care sector is reeling from COVID-19.
Child care providers have told me they face permanent closure without government help to stabilize a precarious financial situation,” said Schreiner. “I am very concerned that when parents go back to work, the child care options for their children simply won’t be there.”
Schreiner is asking the provincial government to step in with stabilization funding to help cover fixed costs while revenues have evaporated.
“The province should step in with stabilization funding so that child care programs are ready with open doors when the province reopens,” said Schreiner.”