CPCHE's Child Care Checklist finds its way into Toronto’s 950 child care centres

Jill McDowell is a health promotion consultant with Toronto Public Health (TPH). She’s also one of TPH’s representatives to CPCHE. So she is very well-positioned to see the benefits of building environmental health principles into the operating criteria of child care centres across the city.

Working with the City of Toronto’s Children’s Services, this is precisely what she did, using CPCHE’s Child Care Checklist as the primary resource.

“I think we all know that the environmental health piece is becoming more important all the time, as we learn more about the potential health effects that all of these chemicals are having on the growth of babies and children,” says Jill.

“But it hasn’t been part of traditional public health outreach – so it’s good to be able to bring the messages and principles of reducing health risk related to environmental toxins to our service-providers.”

There are approximately 950 child care centres either run or subsidized by the City of Toronto. Their compliance with operating criteria set by the City is assessed several times a year and their scores are published on a website, enabling parents to make informed decisions in choosing a child care centre for their child.

As a starting point, child care centres will be scored on whether or not they heat food in plastic containers or serve hot food on plastic dishes. It’s a concern because of the risk that harmful chemicals, such as hormone mimicking BPA, can leach out of heated plastic into food.

While other elements of CPCHE’s Child Care Checklist are not yet being scored in the assessments, they are being strongly encouraged by TPH. For example, if fish is on the menu, the Checklist recommends offering only fish that is low in mercury.

The CPCHE Checklist also recommends such measures as making sure children are able to play in green spaces that are not treated with pesticides, careful use of insect repellents, hand-washing after exposure to pressure-treated wood, implementation of a fragrance-free policy, testing for the presence of radon, and the management of dust which, for contaminants such as lead and brominated flame retardants, can be the largest source of exposure.

“I couldn’t do the work as effectively as I do if it wasn’t for CPCHE – it’s been a great partnership for us,” says Jill.

“CPCHE has an amazing director - really good at listening to the partners and incorporating ideas and feedback into a lot of the advocacy work and communications materials and the education and outreach. And the fact that it is vetted by so many credible researchers and technical folks makes it usable for me and I think for all of the partners because of the credibility of the partnership.”

Jill is also working with TPH’s Healthy Families directorate to incorporate children’s environmental health guidance into existing guidelines and programs, including the Living and Learning with Baby program. Under this program, parents with young children are invited to come in, meet other new parents and learn about issues related to health – everything from nutrition to injury prevention.

“So we built a module using CPCHE’s ‘Top Five Tips’ as the basis for that curriculum,” says Jill. “And I’m sure the video will play its usual helpful role in spreading the word.”

You may contact Jill McDowell by email at jmcdowe@toronto.ca