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Blindsided

Dear editor:

For just over two years, the Emo Child Care Centre board, a volunteer, non-profit organization, has been working on a strategy to address the lack of licensed child care options in the Emo, Barwick, and Stratton area.

With disappointment, we read the recent announcement by the Rainy River District School Board and Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board that they have received more than $6 million from the Government of Ontario to construct three new child-care centres attached to schools in the district.

We are grateful the provincial government finally has recognized the overwhelming need for licensed child care in our communities. However, we are deeply concerned by the lack of transparency, community consultation, and, frankly, integrity displayed by both the RRDSB and the local DSSAB.

The Emo Child Care Centre board, which incorporated as a non-profit in 2016, sought out space close to Donald Young School, in the adjacent Knox United Church building. It was a logical fit. The church board and congregation recognized the needs of young families in our area, and has been an enthusiastic supporter of our efforts from the beginning—committing seed funding and agreeing to renovate space in their facility.

We did our homework. We conducted research and secured licensing from the provincial government, based on our proposed renovations. We also engaged both direct and indirect stakeholders in the area, hearing over and over again how difficult it is to attract new families to the area without licensed child care options available, ­ especially in the central part of the district.

We received letters of support from the municipalities of Emo, Chapple, and Morley, the chief and council of Rainy River First Nations, as well as encouragement from innumerable area businesses, community organizations, and, most importantly, parents of young children.

We engaged the local DSSAB early in this process, as reported in the Fort Frances Times in June, 2017. Though not enthusiastic about adding another facility to its mandate, we met several times with the DSSAB, researching and providing all supporting data it requested, sharing all work done to date, and seeking its assistance in advancing our goal.

Accessible and affordable child-care facilities and programs generally require supplemental operational funding, in addition to subsidies for parents. These are secured through the provincial District Social Services Administration Boards. But the RRDSSAB often cited resource constraints as the primary barrier to our efforts, despite provincial announcements suggesting otherwise.

As part of our information gathering, we became aware of the need for before- and after-school programming in Emo. We met with representatives from the RRDSB and the Ministry of Education's licensing co-ordinator for Kenora-Rainy River and came to an arrangement, in principle, to operate a before- and after-school program at Donald Young School as part of our child-care programming.

In fact, the RRDSB provided us with copies of the plan for the renovated Donald Young School building so we could get the relevant rooms licensed, significant work done by our board, for the benefit of the school board.

We were blindsided by the public announcement on Dec. 22 that child care would be housed entirely within the recently-renovated Donald Young School building. You can imagine our frustration in discovering that the local DSSAB and the RRDSB made use of all our efforts—literally thousands of volunteer hours spent on research, data collection, and planning, in order to demonstrate the need for licensed child care in the district—while completely leaving us out of the process, planning, and, ultimately, the implementation of the facilities.

Moreover, neither organization had the courtesy to be upfront about their change in plans, or that there were newly-available resources for child care in our communities.

We are disappointed in both the DSSAB and the RRDSB for their seeming inability to be forthright, upfront, and honest with at least one of their community stakeholders. Residents of the district should be disappointed, as well, that their representatives and trustees on these boards would allow these two organizations to operate in such an, at best, disingenuous manner.

In order to complete renovations at Donald Young School in 2018, the RRDSB plans to “temporarily” relocate Grade 7 and 8 students to Fort Frances High School. As we have reflected on the announcement, we are hugely concerned these students will be permanently relocated to Fort Frances ­without public consultation or input ­ in order to accommodate the new child care space, which, again, was not part of their original plan.

Parents should be outraged if this takes place—when a local and economical alternative was available all along. We encourage community members to raise their concerns with their municipal councils, DSSAB representatives, and school board trustees.

We also remind families that municipal and school board trustee elections are scheduled to take place this fall.

We are crestfallen but grateful to those who put their faith in our vision. We wish to thank those who have supported us on this journey, including the Emo Knox United Church, which has been so generous with their space, willingness to use their resources to cover the upfront costs of renovations, and for covering the costs of our licensing applications, incorporation, renovation drawings, and other incidental expenses.

We further are grateful to the municipal leadership of Emo, Barwick, and Stratton, and the chief and council of Rainy River First Nations for their support; and our other partners, parents, and community members who regularly offered voices of support and encouragement.

Ultimately, what is most important is that children are cared for in a safe, respectful, and trusted environment. We remind both the RRDSB and RRDSSAB that actions speak louder than words—and that our children are watching.

Sincerely,

Cindy Judson and

Frances Flook,

On behalf of the

Emo Child Care

Centre board,

Emo, Ont.

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