City hall ponders child-care option during public meetings

City staff are in talks with a local agency, and busy kid-proofing a committee room at city hall. City hall is hiring babysitters.

Parents may soon be able to offload their little ones in a nearby room at city hall while they go to public meetings during city council or standing committee meetings— a bid to make those sessions more accessible.

City staff are in talks with a local agency, and busy kid-proofing a committee room at city hall, city clerk Cathy Saunders told The Free Press. The service won’t be available for politicians, just members of the public.

All kinds of people have all kinds of challenges attending committee meetings.

Coun. Phil Squire

But some advocates say it’s time to pave the way for Londoners to serve on one of the city’s many advisory committees by offering those members options for taking care of their kids. The diversity, inclusion and anti-oppression advisory committee (DIAAC) asked council to investigate options for easing the child care burden on committee members.

“If you’re paying to be a volunteer, a lot of people will think it’s just not worth it,” Anne-Marie Sanchez, chair of Women & Politics and a member of DIAAC, said of citizens who are shelling out for daycare so they can serve in advisory roles.

“We’re losing a whole demographic that may be participating and providing valuable advice and input. The women who are participating are of a certain economic status and education (level) and may be older,” she added.

Decades after female politicians on the national stage took heat for bringing their babies to work in the House of Commons, London city councillors want to make sure no women are excluded from city hall for the same reason.

“Women— especially if we’re looking at women from diverse backgrounds and especially women who are newcomers— are the primary caregivers in their families. Evening, when many of these meetings take place, is when the kids are home and dinner happens and bedtime happens,” Coun. Maureen Cassidy, chair of the community and protective services, said.

Not everyone is on board.

When politicians discussed the request for child care to help advisory committee members, Coun. Phil Squire raised the alarm.

“All kinds of people have all kinds of challenges attending committee meetings,” he said. “I would need to know a lot more about this (before I could support it).”

The price tag is also a potential pitfall.

The request for child care at public meetings first came from Coun. Virginia Ridley three years ago, and staff gauged the annual cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Cassidy said the city has to be mindful of “budgetary pressures.”

Ridley said she’d like to see staff report back with options, including subsidizing childcare for advisory committee members rather than providing it on-site. That would allow families to continue using their regular babysitters or daycares.

“We need to look at if there’s a need. It might be one person on one committee,” she said. “Having on-site child care might be a significantly higher cost, especially if we provide it for all our advisory committees.”

And the city’s willingness to investigate child care options sends a signal to Londoners, Sanchez said. She compared it to offering bus tickets or parking passes to help members that struggle with transportation— ultimately it’s about reducing pitfalls that keep people out of the political sphere.

“Just knowing that the city of London is looking into these options and they’re committed to trying to reduce the barriers of civic engagement with the city goes a long way,” Sanchez said.

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