Muskoka child-care services will increase once plans are implemented by the provincial government to create Best Start Child and Family Centres.
Rick Williams, commissioner of community services for the District of Muskoka, said the province’s plans are still vague and he doesn’t know what services will be brought together through the program, but it will provide more resources for parents.
“The whole bringing together of a resource package for families with young children is exciting and I think will make child development that much stronger in Muskoka,” he said.
Williams foresees weekend workshops for parents, resources for children with special needs, and transportation for families who have trouble accessing resources.
The plans were set out in Ontario Early Years Policy Framework and a letter on Jan. 23 by Laurel Broten, Ontario’s minister of education.
In her letter, Broten said the policy sets the vision, guiding principles, and key action areas to build on the advice of Dr. Charles Pascal, who initiated all-day kindergarten and envisioned schools becoming a community centre for families.
“The approach to Best Start Child and Family Centres will provide families and caregivers with easily accessible and responsive programs, services and resources in convenient, recognizable locations and will be supported by a user-friendly provincial website,” the letter said.
The centres will be placed in schools that have all-day kindergarten and are slated to begin in the fall of 2014.
Williams said full-day kindergarten focused on four- to five-year-olds and now they need to take a system approach to try to make sure families have the knowledge and resource supports for children from birth to age 10.
Much of the plan focuses on providing parents with the resources they need to take home to help with language development, good nutrition and physical wellness, he said.
He suggested parents may see things such as ideas on menu planning followed by a weekend workshop on the topic where they can also bring their children.
“The last thing people need when they’re so busy with young kids is things that make them feel guilty without providing the resources,” he said.
Williams sees Muskoka’s particular challenges as providing services for children with exceptional or special needs and providing transportation for those who need support.
“Typically the lowest users of services like this are often the families with the greatest needs,” Williams said. “So we’re going to have to make it easy for them to get there, make sure that information is readily available and transportation and other types of social supports.”
He foresees that happening through volunteer drivers who would be reimbursed, but one of the holes left in the policy is the details about funding.
In Broten’s letter, she said the framework will “involve establishing a common mandate and identity by integrating family support programs … while maintaining current investment levels.”
Broten said the framework will integrate sites of programs already running, such as Early Years Centres, Child Care/Family Resource Centres, and Parenting and Family Literacy Centres, and Better Beginnings, Better Futures.
Williams expects municipalities will play a major role in the programs moving forward.
“Basically there would be strengthening some of the programs that will be coming out of the Early Years programs and broadening the supports available for families as well as children,” he said.
Broten said the Ministry of Education will continue to stabilize and transform the child-care system while several ministries examine ways to improve the delivery of speech and language services for children across the province.
“We will continue to work with our partners to implement this approach to Best Start Child and Family Centres by September 2014 when full-day kindergarten will be available to all of Ontario’s four- and five-year-olds in publicly funded schools,” Broten said.