“My son’s daycare can’t afford to stay in the $10-a-day program. Now, we’ll have to pay an extra $800 a month”

“My son’s daycare can’t afford to stay in the $10-a-day program. Now, we’ll have to pay an extra $800 a month”

Jacqueline Stein’s son attends Ola, a Roncesvalles daycare that’s ditching the subsidized program because it’s running them into debt

Jacqueline Stein holding her son, who's daycare just opted out of the $10/day program

Ten-dollar-a-day daycare was supposed to be a win for everyone—providing guaranteed funding for child care centres, a break for parents struggling to keep up with the cost of living and a success story for Justin Trudeau’s federal government, which implemented the policy. Yet, just two years after Ontario signed on to the program, daycare providers are sounding the alarm, warning that the program is forcing them to scale back their operations. Even the YMCA, which operates 20 per cent of all child care centres in the province, is at risk of closures.

The problem? Inflation. Once a daycare opts in to the program, it has to freeze the cost of its services. In theory, the province has to step in with funding to cover any gap between daycare centres’ expenses and revenue. But, as inflation neared 4 per cent over 2023, the province’s 2.75 per cent top-up simply didn’t cut it. Faced with a shortfall, some daycares have opted out of the program in order to raise rates again. We spoke with one parent caught in the middle.

Being a parent in this city is expensive. The real estate market is out of control—my husband, Fidel, and I accepted long ago that we would be renters for life. When our son was born in May 2021, we were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Roncesvalles. We were desperate for more space, but it was the most we could comfortably afford.

Related: “My son was excluded from the TDSB’s alternative school lottery. Now, I’m pursuing legal action”

Then there’s the cost of child care—if you can get it. There’s a drastic shortage of child care spaces in this province, which means long wait lists to get into any daycare. We heard of some parents who’d started signing up before they’d even given birth. I consider myself an organized person, but I was overwhelmed by the search for a daycare as soon as our son was born. I started diligently signing up for wait lists and kept a spreadsheet with the names of each daycare we applied to, the dates of the multiple follow-ups I sent them and the cost of each facility.

Months passed without a response. I went back to my communications job two days a week in March 2022. We put our son in a daycare in Bloor West, the only one that would take him without a wait list. But we don’t have a car, and it quickly became too far to travel. The following month, we switched to a nanny-share with one other family for the days I went to the office. In September 2022, when I went back to work full-time, I had no choice but to place our son in a local daycare that was much more than we had hoped to pay: $1,600 a month.

Six months later, we had a lucky break. We learned through friends that another daycare in Roncesvalles, Ola, had a spot opening up. It was $125 cheaper than what we were paying and had a short waitlist. It was also licensed with the government, which meant that it would be a no-brainer for it to opt in to the federal $10-a-day daycare program. We did the math: if Ola signed up for the program, child care would cost us only $696.94 monthly. We’d be saving around $800 every month.

By June, we received confirmation that there would be a spot available in the fall of 2022. We decided to enroll our son at Ola for December, giving us the time—and money—to travel to Havana in November, where he could finally meet his grandparents. In March 2023, when we learned Ola was opting in to the $10-a-day program, we breathed a huge sigh of relief. Suddenly, we could afford to spend money on things other than child care. We enrolled our son in a soccer league that summer and, with more cash to spend on rent, moved into a three-bedroom house just up the street in October 2023. We were even able to start planning another visit to Havana for spring 2024.

Jacqueline playing with her son in their home

Ola may not have been as fancy as some other daycares—it didn’t have exposed brick walls or a private chef—but it had wonderful teachers. My son called them his best friends. They were so caring. One day, he knocked one of his front teeth, which sent it leaning backward into his mouth. Our dentist advised us to try pushing it back into place ourselves, but when we arrived at Ola, his teacher held him close, aghast at the idea. She was so concerned for his well-being, which is exactly what we wanted. In the end, we had the procedure done at the dentist, just to be safe.

Being at Ola had a huge impact on his development. His vocabulary expanded exponentially. He made friends. The daycare sent us pictures of him going on walks and doing yoga. It was clear that being out in the world with other kids was helping him thrive.

Then, on the evening of January 8, I received an email from Ola that made my heart sink: it was opting out of the $10-a-day program. The email said the program was sending the daycare into debt and that, if it went on like it had been, it would be at risk of closing. As per the province’s rules, we had 30 days to either commit to paying the full price from March 2024 onward or remove our son from Ola’s care. We were now looking at a new price of $1,433.25 per month, only slightly less than the cost we’d initially been paying, because our son had aged up from the toddler price bracket to the preschool one.

I felt numb, then angry. I screamed for my husband, who was in the kitchen making dinner. When he read the email, he asked, “Is this real?” In that moment, I felt the prospect of our son seeing his grandparents again slip away.

Jacqueline sitting in a chair in her home

That night, I reached out to a friend and neighbour whose child was also at Ola. She was shocked too, and we got together to vent. Within an hour, we started a WhatsApp group with three other families who sent their kids to Ola. Everyone was desperate. Within 24 hours, the group had expanded to 12 families, and then 20. There were single mothers saying they wouldn’t be able to afford any other available daycares. There were people from other parts of the city who came all the way to Ola just for the price.

For our part, we knew we were about to be stretched extremely thin until we could find another licensed daycare. I nixed all the opportunities we had planned for our son over the next year. We cancelled the trip to Cuba. We were very lucky that we could still afford our rent, but there wouldn’t be much wiggle room for emergencies.

We’ve had a wonderful experience at Ola and don’t want to move our son again. But it’s just not up to us, and I’m angry and exhausted. I feel like crying every day. I know that if the funding model doesn’t change, much of my income will be going toward housing and daycare. Our quality of life is taking a nosedive.

I’m not angry at Ola. The way I see it, this has to be the province’s fault: this program is working just fine in other provinces. So we’re advocating. Along with other families in our WhatsApp group, I’ve started reaching out to different organizations that push for more affordable child care in Ontario. My hope is that we can convince the government to offer parents direct financial support rather than forcing us to deal with the red tape that comes with going through daycares. The notice period for when a daycare opts out also needs to be lengthened—30 days is nowhere near enough time to make other arrangements or brace for the financial impact. How is a family supposed to suddenly drum up an extra $800 a month?

Even though the deadline for opting out of the subsidized program for 2024 has now passed, this could happen to other parents all over again in 2025. Plus, fewer affordable daycares means even longer wait lists for the ones that remain. More than anything, I’m shocked at how the burden has fallen on families to advocate for themselves—on top of scrambling to afford child care in the first place.


February 25, 2024

An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the mission of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.