Taking Responsibility

Eva Ravikovich- victim of daycare negligence
Eva Ravikovich- victim of daycare negligence

The other night on the news I heard the latest about the Eva Ravikovich case, that her parents have launched a 3.5 million dollar lawsuit.  They are blaming the daycare & the government for their child’s death.  Blame and money.
Let me first start off by saying that this post is absolutely not about blame.  It is about personal responsibility.  It is about how parents, myself included, have to take responsibility for our children and their safety.  Daycare in Ontario strains this burden to the absolute limit.
This case is not new, not even two years ago a similar event occurred at another over-populated unlicensed home daycare.  14 month old Duy-An Nguyen died after only being in care for 2 days.  She was to start going to work with her mother the very next day, but that day didn’t come for this little girl.
So what exactly is going wrong?  Is the government to blame, as these parents allege?  In my opinion, no this is not the government’s fault.  People want more regulations put into place on unlicensed care.  They want everyone simply to be forced to have a licence.  They want more funding to subsidize care.  All of this would be amazing, but it simply is not going to happen.  Ever.  There is not enough staff or money to make this all happen.  Period.
The catch, at least in Ontario, is that daycare is exorbitantly expensive.  Licensed centres can be $90 per day or more for an infant.  If you’re trying to do some quick math in your head, let me help you, that’s $2000+ per month.  For most people, and I am most people, that is NOT an option and so one must look to other possibilities.  That’s where licensed and unlicensed home care options come into play.
And this is also where you as a parent need to realize that it is now your job to investigate if your child care complies with the regulations that the government forces licensed centres to follow.  We can lay blame all over the place after negligence occurs, but in reality that neglect began much earlier.
Since we are talking about children, the people we we care about most dearly and devotedly, the question becomes why would you put your son/daughter in such a seemingly awful place?  I think there are several factors in play on this:
– Number one reason is definitely FINANCES!  Bargain basement care not going to be top quality care, but some parents simply have no other options.  Subsidies in Ontario are difficult to obtain, can only be used at licensed centres and you also need to have a space at a centre reserved before you can get your subsidy…. oh, and did I mention every centre has a HUGE wait list?  My child was on 4 lists from the time I was 5 months pregnant and she is now over a year old.  I have never been called by a single centre to say they have a space.
– Availability.  As mentioned above, there are just not enough childcare options in our province.  Several licensed places have opened in my area this past year and all have filled every infant/toddler space plus a long wait list months prior to even opening.
– After those top two there are other various items.  Those being location (is it close enough to home/work), language (immigrants can have a hard time finding many options due to an inability to speak English), knowledge (a lack of understanding of child/caregiver ratios and other standards that a daycare should meet)
– Lastly there is the fact that some caregivers understand that getting care can be so difficult, and they sadly use this to their advantage.  Basically, you need me more than I need you, so it’s my rules.  Desperate parents who need to get care during work hours may be bullied into just accepting whatever care they can find ASAP.

From the facts presented thus far it seems neither of these children should have died, and that too many children per care worker may have played a factor.  In Eva’s case, yes the Ministry should have followed up on complaints, but even so I can’t believe there were no signs and that the parents sending their kids to this centre had no idea of what was going on there.
Here is my advice to parents looking for unlicensed care:
Know the Ministry standards for licensed centres and ask potential providers about their planned ratios.  Do not leave your child with anyone who does not know these ratios or does not plan on following them.  They are in place for a reason- that reason being safety!  (Licensed child-care providers can care for no more than two children under 2 years, and three under 3 years. Unlike with private operators, this includes their own children.)   The rational behind these numbers is that if an emergency occurred a single caregiver could carry the 2 children under age two and the other three would be capable of walking/listening to instructions on their own to follow them.
– This may sound obvious, but visit the location.  Even if the operator says they won’t be spending much time at the home/daycare area, you should still see it.  And ask to see it when it’s open, not just after hours when it’s empty of children.  This will give you an idea of how the space is used by the kids and if it is safe (if you see kids climbing the bookcases you will know there are no rules.)
Do transition days with your child.  This may be hard if it’s a last minute find and you have an inflexible office, but I’d fight for at least a few half days to attend the place with your child.  It is very hard to hide 20 extra children for 3 half days, or other major infractions.
Drop in unexpectedly.  This is regularly done to licensed centres and it’s a great idea.  I’d drop in within a week of starting care, and again within 3 weeks.  If you can’t get away to do this then get a relative, babysitter, or close friend pick up your child early one day or bring your child late one morning.  The pick-up can also be a good test to see if they will release your son/daughter to someone they haven’t met before.  Do they call to check with you?  Do they check the person’s ID?  They should!
References and credentials.  Preferably a reference someone who has a child that has been in the care for over a year and is old enough to speak in sentences.  The length of time shows that they trust the caregiver, and the child can talk about their day to day schedule there.  It may seem a bit on the stalker side, but if you happen upon a neighbour to the daycare ask them what they’ve seen.  I could tell you a heck of a lot about my neighbours!  Credentials that you will want are an up to date, yes these do expire, criminal reference check (done through your local police department) and infant/child CPR.  An Early Childhood Education certification would also be a “nice to have” but not a necessity.
All of the above is even more important when your child is too young to talk.  They cannot communicate to you directly.  For this age group I would advise that you get to know other parents with children in the home daycare so you can trade information and experiences.  Once your child can talk~ LISTEN!!!  Children talk about friends and their caregiver- is there a name in there that you don’t recognize?  You should know and have met every care worker so if they are telling you that someone else is taking care of them then that’s a serious breach of trust between you and the provider.  Again, it’s hard to hide a lot of major issues: too many kids, other workers who you don’t know (child talks about new people every day), inappropriate foods (the yogurt was warm and tasted funny), going to other people’s houses or locations you were not informed of, abuse of any kind (this is something you should be on the alert for no matter what care your child has).  Please keep in mind that when it comes to abuse, many victims say that they tried to tell someone in a subtle way but were not heard so really listen and follow up with questions to any comments about not wanting certain people to care for them.  Question (do not interrogate) care workers about injuries and then later speak to your child to make sure the stories match.

Even with due diligence and putting your child in a place that makes them happy and you feeling secure, accidents can still happen.  As my midwife told me, “life is risk.”  But at least if something happens I’m not going to look back and feel like I sat on the sidelines when it comes to being a responsible parent.  We all build a file of regrets during our lifetime, selecting the care of your child should not be one of them.

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