Progress Child Care supervisors fight to keep centre open

A community is left in limbo. Parents are left worried, daycare workers are left sacrificing, volunteer workers are donating and a family-oriented neighbourhood is left fighting. What weighs heavily on their minds is the question: Will Scarborough’s Progress Child Care centre shut down or not?

According to a report from the children’s services division, it stated that a possible 400 child-care centres across the province will be in debt and more than half will be expected to close.

The Progress Child Care centre is one of the many daycares in the province that is already financially in trouble and are under the risk of closure if the provincial government doesn’t come to the rescue with $27 million before 2014 when full-day kindergarten expands province-wide..

“We are expected to hear the city’s approval next week, so until then we don’t know what’s going to happen,” child-care worker Maria Wisniowska said.

“We have a new board of directors that provides a financial plan on how we can get out of debt to help save the daycare.”

The community off Kennedy Road and Progress Avenue serves as a low-income neighbourhood in need of subsidy assistance.

With only a handful of parents paying, this has led the Progress daycare to be threatened with closure since June 2011 due to being $100,000 in debt.

“At that time, the government was actually shutting us down. We received a letter in June that the next day would be the last day of operations for the daycare,” Wisniowska said.

“They had a huge deficit and they basically told us that they don’t have money to pay us.”

Since then, the city of Toronto allocated an administrator to help manage their finances.

Wisniowska says financial improvements have been made.

“In June catering was three thousand and right now it’s probably ten thousand but we paid off twenty thousand… We went on a plan so every month we pay them extra.”

Wisniowska says the community has been volunteering to help out as much as they can to help save money.

“The parents are concerned and they’ve been bringing us donations so we won’t have to spend and buy things like soaps, sanitizers and other things that are needed,” she said.

We’re actually talking about cancelling our own benefits because it will help save the daycare

— Maria Wisniowska

Wisniowska and her colleagues have been sacrificing the most to help keep the centre open and the children safe.

“Back in June we actually had our wages deferred for three weeks — we worked for free for three weeks,” she said.

“And right now, we’re actually talking about cancelling our own benefits because it will help save the daycare as well,” she added.

Wisniowska also took on the responsibility of being the child care supervisor to save the centre some money.

“They couldn’t bring anyone from outside because of the wages… They couldn’t afford the supervisor rate so basically I just stepped up and became a supervisor without taking the pay increase.”

As of Nov. 28, Wisniowska officially took on the role of supervisor.

Another factor affecting the closure of the centre is the drastic drop in enrolment and a freeze in subsidies for the pre-school and kindergarten-age groups. This has made it challenging for the facility to meet its obligations.

Wisniowska says trying to catch up with payments hasn’t been easy, especially after another warning from the government came through in mid-October.

The city of Toronto gave Progress’s volunteer board an additional 30 days to come up with a plan that would prevent the centre from shutting down.

According to the volunteer boards, the centre could stay open on three possible accounts: If the city gave the centre money to reduce its debt, increased its subsidies, or guaranteed a loan.

Wisniowska says losing the daycare would be hard for families who depend on the centre.

“The majority of parents in the community are on subsidy and they are very, very concerned… They don’t want the daycare to close and they can’t afford for the daycare to close,” she said.

Nonetheless, Wisniowska and the parents of the community refuse to give up and refuse to let the city win over because the children are the priority.

“Parents aren’t making alternative plans to leave because they do believe that the daycare will stay open. So right now they are staying positive,” Wisniowska said.

“We’re doing this for the kids… Many times kids are better off at daycare because that’s where they grow, that’s where they make friends and it’s a safe place for them.”

If a possible closure were to happen, Wisniowska says it will be too much of an inconvenience for parents to find an alternative child care centre because the majority of them live in the community.

According to a report from children’s services, a staff report found that if daycare centres were to close, it would result in 2,600 subsidies lost and parents could expect to pay 10 per cent more.

The report also suggests councillors ask the province to work on providing more money for the “child care stabilization and transition plan” in order to keep affordable spaces open.

Children’s Services is encouraging parents to continue enrolling their children at the centre, as a concrete decision has yet to be made.

City Hall’s community and recreation committees are expected to meet and discuss the report Friday.

Wisniowska is hoping to hear positive outcomes from city officials next week.

“We’re looking forward to staying open and getting some financial help,” she said.

In the meantime, “we’re trying our best to save the daycare and we’re going to fight till the end.”