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Daycare regulations: licensed v. unlicensed daycares

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As most parents know, finding a good daycare spot can be an Olympian task. All across Canada, tens of thousands of kids languish on waitlists for a quality spot.

Parents can only wait so long though, so many will turn to unlicensed daycares.

A 2014 report from Ontario’s ombudsman found 823,000 young children in unlicensed care in that province alone.

Of course, any parent wants their children in the best, safest daycare they can find. So what’s the difference between licensed and unlicensed places?

Unlicensed daycare

There’s little regulation, oversight or enforcement for unlicensed daycares.  That doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad or dangerous, but they could be a riskier choice.

There may be certain tax and business regulations according to the province, but there’s generally no regulation about facilities, food, activities or anything pertaining to the kids.

Generally, the only restriction on unlicensed daycares is a limit on the number of kids. This varies by province, but Ontario, for example, permits no more than five children under the age of six, although these rules are often broken. In B.C., an unlicensed caregiver can look after a maximum of two kids.

Limit infractions are also the only sort of formal complaint a parent can issue against an unlicensed facility, short of them actually breaking the law.

These setups aren’t inspected or monitored and enforcement is also complaint-based.

Studies and reports — by provinces, independent agencies and coroners responding to child deaths — have often suggested tougher regulation on unlicensed daycares, but they continue to operate largely free from oversight.

Licensed daycare

By contrast, licensed daycares are subject to far more regulations.

These depend on the province, but they generally impose limits on the number of kids as well as strictures on safety, hygiene, activities, and caregiver credentials.

They are also subject to inspections — often unannounced — from the province’s governing authority, often the ministry of education.

To get into greater specifics, provincial standards often call for kids of similar age groups and for activities geared towards their education and development. Fenced-in outdoor play areas are another standard requirement.

Even food is regulated. A licensed daycare is typically made to provide meal plans to parents and must accommodate special nutritional concerns. Food storage standards may also be specified.

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