Daycare diligence

The complainant, Doreen Cowin, is Executive Director of a resource center for independent daycares. She thought a Marketplace episode that focused on some substandard unlicensed daycares was unfair because it did not also show well run ones. The focus of the piece was to make viewers aware of the lack of oversight in the industry, especially since a national survey revealed many people polled actually thought all daycares were subject to regulations. Because the story had a particular focus, it did not need to address broader issues. There was no violation of journalistic policy.

COMPLAINT

As Executive Director of the Child Care Providers Resource Network, you wrote to complain about a Marketplace episode originally aired in February 2013, and rebroadcast in August. Your organization provides resources for independent daycare providers in the Ottawa area.

The program dealt with the challenges and problems with unlicensed daycares, where 80% of Canadian children in care find themselves. The feature was based on an investigation of 20 unlicensed daycares across Canada and on the results of a national survey commissioned by the program to look for “specific information about unlicensed day care services.” The study was conducted by Leger Marketing Research, and asked questions about parents’ knowledge of the rules applicable to daycare and to the status of their children’s daycare.

The segment focused mainly on a few facilities which were either in violation of the law, or did not meet accepted standards of safety. A good part of the episode was centred on two Toronto daycares owned by the same people. The investigation revealed that the facility had more children than allowable by Ontario law, and that the owner had previously been charged with running an illegal daycare. That facility had been shut down for the same reason.

You felt the report was “shockingly biased” against unlicensed home daycare because “it zeroed in on clearly unsuitable and dangerous unlicensed day cares, when there are thousands of excellent ones that were never mentioned and never visited.”

Because there was no spokesperson for good unlicensed home child care, you felt it was impossible for there to be informed debate, as called for in CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices. You also felt there was no diversity of views reflected. “Vilifying a couple of poorly informed providers is not ‘fair’ and does not bring about change.” You thought that this piece tars all unlicensed providers with the same brush and affects the brand of private home care. You cite the fact that 80% of children are in “independent home care” as proof that it is Canadian parents’ first choice for their children, and this, along with all the other advantages such as flexibility, consistency and being more “personal in its scope” should have been included in the segment.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of Marketplace, Marie Caloz, responded to your concerns. She apologized for the delay in doing so. She pointed out that the scope of the episode was very specifically on “unlicensed, unregulated daycares – the group we feel that is of particular interest to Canadian consumers”:

“Had our story taken a broad look at the daycare business in Canada, you might reasonably expect to hear about a range of facilities and likely from the people who run them: the larger licensed facilities, the small unlicensed private daycares, and that smaller number of operations that put the children in their charge at risk.”

She noted that there are good quality unlicensed childcare providers across the country, but that one of the issues in the piece is the fact it is difficult to tell which daycares meet standards and which don’t and that Canadian parents, based on the survey they did, are not very well informed. She pointed out that in the survey 75% of those asked either didn’t know or thought that day cares do have to meet regulations or standards:

We believe this program will empower parents to ask more informed questions when seeking daycare and gives them the information they need to make this crucial choice easier. We have also posted resources on our website, to help parents ask the right questions of private daycare providers and make informed choices when choosing their private daycare.”

REVIEW

The Marketplace segment was not a broad discussion of the pros and cons of different daycare models. It had a particular frame and focus. The piece opened with host Erica Johnson stating:

“We take you inside daycares. They should be one of the safest places children spend time. But we reveal a patchwork system with no rules, potential dangers and people breaking the law. The program provides proof of that fact with its hidden camera.”

The focus was on the lack of regulation in the daycare industry which leads to uneven and inconsistent standards. In the course of doing that investigation, the team came across some fairly irregular situations. Reporting on them was in the public interest, as it brings into question the safety of children. You may be correct to characterize the featured daycares as “misguided” but that does not make it inappropriate to reveal these daycares exist.

The other motif is the apparent lack of knowledge parents have about the system and how it is run. Marketplace commissioned a survey from the firm Leger Market Research which revealed that 46% of those surveyed thought all daycares have to meet “government standards or regulations” and that one third of those with children under 13 simply didn’t know. The focus on the substandard care, whether it be qualifications, background checks, absence of first aid knowledge, or the number of children in the facility, are all used as illustrations of the fact that there is no oversight, even though many parents believe that there is.

The program points out that there have been four inquests in Ontario which have recommended the province create more licensed daycare. The program does not explore what that licensing system would look like. Had it done so, you might reasonably expect that you or others who represent independent daycare operators would be asked for their views.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices sets out values of balance and impartiality. They assume even handed treatment of an issue, but also allow, in the case of impartiality, for CBC journalists to use “professional judgment based on facts and expertise.” The value of Balance is described this way:

We contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion. Our content on all platforms presents a wide range of subject matter and views.

On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held these views are. We also ensure that they are represented over a reasonable period of time.

Balance is not equivalence. Because the segment shows bad private daycares, it is not under obligation to show good ones. That would be necessary if its premise was that all home daycares are by definition bad. This program focused on the issues in an unregulated environment and chose examples to illustrate the point. Given that most Canadians in the Marketplace survey seemed to think all daycares are regulated, it is a point worth making in the public interest. It doesn’t imply all daycares function this way. It does give a strong message that parents need to educate themselves when choosing a daycare provider. The website offers a checklist to help them do so.

The program achieved balance when it allowed the operators who were shown to be in contravention of the law to be given a chance to respond. The Marketplace website includes a full statement from them. It also includes a statement from the parents of the children in that daycare, who acknowledge that there is an overall issue of oversight in the industry, while expressing support for the daycare operators:

“We have had an open and honest conversation with the owners and operators to ensure our children are safe, cared for to the highest standard and loved. We agree that poor judgement was used although the expectations are now clear. The staff love our children and we support and trust them with their care.

We agree that there is a significant need for support for additional childcare services in Ontario and it was very difficult to find quality care; unfortunately it takes tactics such as this show to get this message across.”

The program fulfilled its obligations of balance in dealing with the daycare it exposed. It created a program designed to focus attention on a matter of public interest, and provided accurate and useful information for consumers looking for daycare facilities. As the debate about how best to ensure the safety of children in care unfolds, I expect that other CBC News outlets will fairly present a range of views on what the best solutions might be. The scope and focus of the Marketplace program was not about that broader question.

There was no violation of CBC journalism policy.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman