CAROLYN FERNS, EARLY CHILDHOOD STUDIES (MA), ALUMNI
When it comes to making affordable, quality childcare available to every child in Ontario, Carolyn Ferns is well prepared for the challenge.
As head of the nonprofit Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, Ferns is working to make childcare more accessible to families – both in terms of price and spaces available – and more equitable for its workers. Ontario has the highest childcare fees in the country; although subsidized spots are available, underfunding means many kids are on wait-lists. Altogether, there is only one spot in licensed childcare for every five children. Meanwhile, early childhood educators, she says, earn relatively low wages, face precarious work and have limited opportunities to advance.
“What we have right now is a childcare market, instead of a childcare system based on universality, quality and comprehensiveness,” Ferns says.
It’s an idea that first resonated with Ferns at Ryerson, where she embraced the program’s emphasis on social justice. It developed further when she worked at Toronto’s Childcare Resource and Research Unit, where she co-authored reports on early childhood care in Canada. Ferns is also a board director of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada and a member of the grassroots collective Advocates for Progressive Childcare Policy.
Ferns is continuing the coalition’s tradition of lobbying government, conducting public awareness and mobilization campaigns and publishing reports. Its latest report, Child Care Matters to Everyone: A Snapshot of Child Care in Ontario, weaves current data with personal perspectives to powerfully illustrate the system’s gaps. Last spring, the coalition joined childcare advocates countrywide in a national week of action to influence the election.
“It’s important to make the childcare crisis visible, because often it’s a silent struggle families face alone,” Ferns says. “We needed government intervention, because otherwise we’re never going to have the right balance.”