Interview with Indira Naidoo-Harris

Ontario’s first minister responsible for early years and child care

By OPSBA Staff

On January 20, 2017, Indira Naidoo-Harris, MPP for Halton and the recently appointed minister responsible for early years and child care (as well as minister of women’s issues), attended OPSBA’s 2017 Public Education Symposium in Toronto.

Naidoo-Harris was first elected to the Ontario legislature in 2014. She was previously associate minister of education, focusing on early years and child care. Naidoo-Harris was born in Durban, South Africa. Her family immigrated to Canada to pursue the dreams they could not achieve under apartheid. They settled in central Alberta, where Naidoo-Harris grew up in a small rural town. She later earned a B.A. in political science at the University of Lethbridge.

Following the symposium, Naidoo-Harris participated in a Q&A with OPSBA staff.

OPSBA would like to congratulate you on your new cabinet position. Why do you think it’s important that the early years and child care have been given a stand-alone minister?

I am proud and honoured to serve as Ontario’s first minister responsible for early years and child care. This appointment recognizes the importance of the early years and child care in our society. Families need help finding affordable, quality child care. Investing in quality early years learning helps children succeed and gives them the best possible start in life. It’s important that we set our children up for success at an early age and give them a solid foundation in education.

School boards have been extremely supportive of the implementation of full-day kindergarten and many schools have strong before- and after-school programs (BASP) delivered either by the board themselves or by a third-party provider. What do you see the role of school boards and trustees being in this next step of providing BASP for children ages 6 to 12?

School boards played a critical role in the successful implementation of full-day kindergarten (FDK), and of before- and after-school programs. They continue to play an important role as we expand the current duty to providing before- and after-school programs for 6- to 12-year-olds where there is sufficient demand.

School boards are uniquely positioned to provide an environment where services can be co-located and integrated for the purpose of reducing transitions and building stronger connections for children and families, and for early years and school professionals and educators.

Through greater integration with early years, child care and education services, more families and children will benefit from a seamless day and the consistent quality of care that supports healthy child development and lifelong success.

FDK and before- and after-school programs are key parts of the broader provincial vision for “a system of responsive, high-quality, accessible, and increasingly integrated early years programs and services that contribute to healthy child development today and a stronger future tomorrow.” School boards are a key part of bringing that vision to reality.

Your ministry is also looking at a renewed framework for the early years and child care system. What role do school boards have in this?

We are developing a renewed early years and child care policy framework and expansion strategy to better support an integrated system of early childhood experiences and to support our five-year rollout plan for the 100,000 new licensed child-care spaces across Ontario.

School boards have a critical role to play in the expansion strategy, through working closely with service system managers and community partners in the delivery of child-care services. For child-care spaces located in schools, this work will require ongoing, cooperative and collaborative partnerships between consolidated municipal service managers, district social services administration boards, school boards and the Ministry. The Ministry is currently engaging school boards and other early years partners to review accommodation costs as part of the work on a broader provincial framework to make child care more accessible and affordable for Ontario families.

Over the fall 2016 and winter 2017, the Ministry conducted a province-wide engagement guided by its discussion paper, Building a Better Future: A Discussion Paper for Transforming Early Years and Child Care in Ontario, reaching over 2,085 parents, stakeholders and partners, including school boards.

The framework will enhance access, affordability, quality and the responsiveness of Ontario’s early learning and child care programs. This plan will require operational and capital funding; it will include building and retrofitting new spaces as well as recruiting and training new staff; and it will align with the Ministry’s existing schools-first policy for child-care capital projects in schools. As we move forward with the development and implementation of the renewed policy framework and the commitment for 100,000 new child-care spaces, the government will continue to work with our partners, including school boards, to support planning, implementation and delivery in their communities.

How will school boards be involved in the location decisions for the placement of the 100,000 new child-care spaces beginning in 2017?

The government has committed to creating 100,000 new licensed child-care spaces for children up to age 4 through a mix of school-, community- and home-based child care. Because they are well positioned to understand the needs of the families in their communities, school boards will play a key role in helping to determine the placement of new school-based spaces.

In recent years, the Ministry has provided two intake periods (the Capital Priorities program and the School Consolidation Capital program) for school boards to submit early years capital project requests for funding consideration. In consultation with local, municipal child-care service system managers, boards identify schools that best meet local community needs. This ongoing process gives us a good picture of where there is need for new investments and where opportunities exist for expanding Ontario’s child-care system.

What role is Ontario playing in the broader discussions of the federal-provincial-territorial framework?

I appreciate the productive relationship we have been able to develop with my federal counterparts since taking on this exciting new portfolio.

As part of the 2016 federal budget, $400 million has been committed in 2017-18 to support the establishment of a National Early Learning and Child Care Framework across Canada. An additional $100 million has been committed to support Indigenous child care and early learning on reserve.

Federal-provincial-territorial officials have been meeting since March 2016 to develop the framework agreement. A meeting of ministers most responsible for early learning and child care is expected in the coming months. Once the multilateral agreement is signed, the province will begin to negotiate bilateral agreements with the federal government.