Appreciating early childhood educators

Many childcare providers receive little recognition for a job well done. That is about to change.

Warden Gerry Marshall has proclaimed October 25 to be Child Care Worker and Early Childhood Educator Appreciation Day, in recognition of the childcare professionals who work with children and families in the community.

The county will make a declaration in support of ECE Appreciation Day and conduct team visits to various centres. Laura D’Ambrosio, Manager of Early Learning and Childcare, will be making those visits with her colleagues in honour the day within the children’s services department.

“The supervisory Team of Children’s Services goes out into the community to visit a good majority of the childcare programs and to talk to staff. We do brief visits to talk to staff, and then we leave them with some resources to support program development,” says D’Ambrosio.

“It’s a day that they really appreciate seeing us out in the community to thank them for the dedication, their meaningful care and the continuous learning that they have to provide to children every day.”

The county currently has 185 licensed sites in all of Simcoe County and the team of nine cannot reach them all in person on the day.

“We divide out the county, and we load up our vehicles with program resources to go out to these sites, and they always compliment the provincial curriculum. So, we’re always trying to enhance the programs that we’re visiting with resources that can be used and we have funding for,” says D’Ambrosio.

She also pointed out that they have personal conversations with the staff that are available.

Since the release of the updated Early years Act in 2014, their roles at the county have become more defined and are now responsible for planning, managing services and family support programs.

They work within provincial legislation, regulations, local policies and guidelines when delivering their services to the community. “We use that to inform how we allocate funding, how we support the programs,” says D’Ambrosio.

A big piece of funds allocation is the fee subsidy for families in need of childcare, which took up $18 million of their $40 million annual budget. As of the end of last year, 3,758 children were supported through fee subsidy and the county has been able to lift their six-month waiting list.

D’Ambrosio also recognizes the issue of wages for ECE workers in the childcare sector as a significant challenge. The Simcoe County Designated Early Childhood Educator (DECE) local works to regulate relations between the school board and the DECEs employed within the board.

DECE president Amanda Judd says while the cost of child care continues to rise they continue advocating for ECEs to receive a fair living wage.

She explains that ECE Appreciation Day provides an opportunity to “shine a light on the important work that we do and recognize the importance of RECEs in this province with children and families.”

D’Ambrosio expressed support for this sentiment, recognizing the challenge they face and the steps they are taking, at the county level, to address it.

“The wages are not high, and the wage enhancement funding that’s intended to enhance the childcare sector, like the compensation in this sector, is directed to licensed childcare programs,” says D’Ambrosio.

This also includes home childcare that’s licensed and, according to her department, over 1,400 staff were supported with wage enhancement last year. The distribution of it is based on a system put in place by the Ministry of Education.

“Wage enhancement comes with very clear guidelines from the Ministry and how it’s allocated based on the hours that they work. We calculate and then distribute to those programs,” explains D’ Ambrosio.

“I think a challenge in the system is us retaining qualified early childhood educators …Even though there is a passion for them to do this work, they are forced to leave because of wages.”

The province’s wage enhancement is geared to increasing some of those wages along with different types of incentive funding for ECE professionals.

They also provide funding for special needs resourcing for children up to age six, supporting the resource teacher program with families and licensed childcare. Some of the therapy programs they help facilitate occupational and physical therapy through the hospital along with preschool speech and language.

Other communities they work to engage and accommodate within the children’s services spectrum are newcomers and families within the Francophone community.

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Photo credit: Aaron Burden

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