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‘Childcare desert’: Decades-old Toronto daycare to shut down in 7 months, leaving parents to scramble on next steps

A group of parents in Toronto is raising concerns about whether they will be able to find adequate childcare after learning that the centre their children attend will close this summer.

“Essentially, if this closes, it becomes a childcare desert,” Kevin Morrison, a Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee for Ward 9, said of Carmelite Day Nursery.

The daycare, nestled near Dundas Street West and Ossington Avenue, has been looking after children up to 10 years old, including months-old infants, since it was founded over 100 years ago.

Since then, for the parents who send their children to Carmelite, it has become more than just a daycare – it has become family.

“They’re our family,” Kathleen Killin told CTV News Toronto. “I never thought that at my age, I’m 34, that I would be making best friends and that my best friends would be other women from my son’s daycare. But sure enough, they are, and we’re [a] very, very, very close-knit community.”

Killin’s two children, four-year-old Danny and 18-month-old Patrick are among the 175 kids who attend the west-end Toronto daycare.

Over 30 per cent of the families who send their children here are on subsidy, Killin said, and it participates in the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care system – the federally-initiated program to reduce childcare costs to an average of $10-a-day by 2026.

But now, the daycare is set to close at the end of July, just over seven months from now, leaving parents to scramble on what to do next to care for their children.

“This news was absolutely devastating and shocking to us,” Killin said. “When we say that the closure of this daycare is going to devastate this community, it is already devastating the community from how people are feeling and there are no daycare spots in our whole area.”

The daycare’s board sent a letter to parents announcing the closure last Wednesday, sharing they have made the “painful but necessary decision to wind-down operations.”

“Creating a place of safe, nurturing, and inspirational learning for generations of children has been our lifelong mission and this has been an extremely difficult decision to make. However, after many years of faithful service to the community, myself and the other Carmelite Sisters on the Board of Directors who oversee the Day Nursery have reached the point in our lives where it’s time for this chapter of our service to come to an end,” the letter reads.

Liz McLaughlin, a registered nurse with two children – an 18-month-old and a four-year-old – attending the daycare, heard the news of the closure after a 12-hour shift. While she said the news didn’t register at first, the following day felt like her whole life caught fire.

“It was like someone in my immediate family had died, like I was crying so much because I was thinking, ‘Can I stay in the city? Can I maintain my community?” McLaughlin said. “I tried to call Coun. [Diane] Saxe and I was crying so much, and I was trying to compose myself that the machine perceived it like a hang up and it hung up on me.”

According to Morrison, there is no other infant, toddler or preschool care anywhere in the neighbourhood that could take on the Carmelite Day Nursery families should it close in the summer.

However, he said he is looking at Pope Francis, a nearby school, to provide before and after school care for the school-aged children by September.

Liz Nadeau, the board-appointed executive from the Canadian Religious Stewardship to over-see the closure operations, echoed what the board had said on the daycare’s closure to CTV News Toronto in an emailed statement. Nadeau did not provide more insight on why it has decided to close outside of that it was time for their service to end. According to Killin, however, through various parent interviews and conversations, the reasoning is that the nuns are seeking retirement and can no longer continue to run things as they are.

“Our focus during this time is on providing our families with the assistance needed to help navigate this next chapter,” Nadeau said. “We have reached out to nearby childcare centres and we are working with our childcare coalition partners on how we might be able to match our families with potential spots.”

In the days following the announcement, Killin has taken it upon herself to helm the newly-founded parent’s council to find solutions on what Carmelite parents can do next, stressing that they are seeking two more years and a realistic transition plan for everyone as the July 31 deadline is simply unrealistic.

Killin adds the government also needs to fund the current daycares in the neighbourhood, or any new ones that may be formed, to help parents find care for the 175 children soon to be without it.

“I know it’s a tall ask, but we’re falling through the cracks,” Killin said. “Our daycare takes in infants that are as young as four weeks old…kids quickly phase out of the daycare age into elementary school, and we feel that we’re falling through the cracks.”

The Carmelite parents, alongside NDP MPP Jessica Bell, are set to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. on Friday to draw attention to the daycare’s closure. 

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