Jaizel Delos Santos

How to Set Your Center Up for a Successful Licensing Inspection

In this episode of The Preschool Podcast, we’re joined by Jaizel Delos Santos, a Registered Early Childhood Educator, former Program Advisor with the Ministry of Education in Ontario, and current HiMama Sales Development Representative. Jaizel shares her knowledge about what licensing reps are looking for when entering a child care facility for their inspection. Jaizel elaborates on not only the importance of these unannounced inspections but how educators, directors, and owners can set themselves up for success for their annual inspection visit. 

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Jaizel Delos SANTOS

As a program adviser, we still have a job to do. But at the end of the day, this is ensuring that that job protects the health and well-being of the children in care.


Jaizel, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!


Thank you so much, Ron, for having me. I’m so excited to join today!


We’re excited to have you with us today Jaizel Delos Santos. She is an early-childhood educator and she’s also part of the team at HiMama. So, that’s really exciting. Every once in a while, we get the pleasure of talking with folks at HiMama.

Part of the reason why we’re talking to Jaizel is because she’s an early-childhood educator, but she also has experience working as a program advisor with the Ministry of Education here in Ontario, Canada, where we are. So, we can learn a little bit about that experience from her, which should be pretty cool. So, Jaizel, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you have ended up here on this podcast being an early-childhood educator, but also being at HiMama.


Yeah, for sure. So again, yeah, my name is Jaizel, and I am celebrating actually 15 years of being in the fields of early-childhood education [ECE]. So, it’s been quite a journey, doing ECE since 2006, when I received my diploma in early-childhood education. And following that, I received my bachelor’s degree in children’s studies from York University, here in Ontario.

So, coming from that experience and professionally in the field since then, I’ve taught in all age groups, from infant to school age. I think I’ve pretty much done it all, everything that I can think of in ECE, from being program staff. I’ve been a director and childcare coordinator for a multi-site organization; I’ve taught at a post-secondary level here, here in Toronto, at Seneca College. And I felt like this leadership position would be huge opportunities for me to contribute more to the ECE sector in the field.

So, the next possible step was to join Ontario Ministry of Education and get my feet wet in policies, legislation, provincial guidelines. And now I landed here at HiMama because I love to learn more about the tech space and the industry and how I can make a difference in ECE on a much broader scale. So, North America and international. So, really excited to be here, here at HiMama, since March of this year.


Very cool. That’s quite the diverse experience, so it should be a good conversation. So, I guess let’s start it off first with, what is a program advisor? So, maybe you can tell the audience I guess maybe, like, what are some of the things you would do or some, like, the objectives of in your role and that kind of thing?


For sure, and I could speak to the Ontario Ministry of Education. It may be different in some provinces or some states. So, being a program advisor, working under the Ministry of Education, I was responsible for licensing inspections for the purpose of, let’s say, licensing renewals for childcare centers, new license applications for centers wanting to open up their doors for the childcare community. Also doing monitoring visits and overall ensuring that childcare programs were in compliance under my role as a program advisor at the Ontario provincial legislation. So, here in Ontario, it’s called the Child Care and Early Years Act [CCEYA].


Cool, okay, so this is going to be great. We’re going to have insider information here for our audience.


Hey, okay, let’s see what we can do.


Like you said, though, I think every jurisdiction and everywhere is obviously different. But I think there’s probably some great lessons we can learn. So, licensing, this is something that I think creates a lot of stress and anxiety, just sort of hearing the words “licensing, inspection”, probably for some folks that are listening here today who are directors, owners and even the educators in the classroom when their manager says, “The inspector’s coming in tomorrow!”

So, maybe you can tell us a bit about, what were the things you would look for in that program advisor role? And then maybe flipping that to the other perspective of, as a childcare center operator, what are the some of the things that you can do to help ensure an inspection goes as smoothly as possible?


For sure. And yes, I totally agree, 100%. I’ve been on both sides of an inspection. And it’s different when you’re actually the program advisor entering a childcare center for that day. We always say our role is to come unannounced. It’s an unannounced licensing inspection.

And the main goal, for me, as a program adviser, was to ensure the health, safety and well-being of the children in care. So, when I would do my inspections, I had to ensure all these programs were in compliance with provincial requirements set out in the CCEYA. Doing that, I think it does set in a nerve with directors and owners, for sure, because it’s an unannounced visit. It’s not always great to see someone at the door with the badge here for an inspection, but that was essentially my role.

And I think the best way for me to engage with the director, with the owner, with the educators, right down to the cook, was to just develop a positive relationship right from the get-go. So, I would step into a program, introduce myself and the purpose of the visit and just reassure everyone, “It’s like your day-to-day.” It’s easier-said-than-done to pretend that someone’s not here looking over their shoulder.

But at the end of the day, I was there to ensure that policies and procedures were up to date, up to standards and in compliance, as well as program observation. So, I would step into the classroom, which was, I think, my favorite part as a program advisor because I would see such different types of programs – early years programs – in action, getting a feel of the program itself, the curriculum and the frameworks that educators would implement.

Learning and development was huge. Here in Ontario, we have that, “How Does Learning Happen?” document. And that was my favorite part, to make observations and summary reports from. So, with that, a lot of other inspections were made, such as health and medical supervision, ensuring that building and equipment was adequate and staff qualifications. So, I had to go through a lot of records for children’s records and staff to make sure all the relevant information as per the CCEYA was included.

So, you’re looking around from 10:00AM to 2:00PM for a full day inspection. And also had the experience of inspecting half-day programs, nursery programs, before-and-after-school care. So, we got a lot of different types of programs to inspect.

And I think Ron, to your question, in terms of an operator, just to make sure that an inspection goes smoothly, I think the best advice I could give – and I always said this to the licensees and the childcare workers that I that I did inspections for, who did seem nervous and apprehensive – was to treat every day like a licensing visit. So, that way you’re kind of comfortable in your own work and you can kind of reflect the value of your work as it comes naturally to you.

Pretend that a licensing inspection is happening every day, that a PA [program advisor] is coming to make sure that you’re following those guidelines and provincial standards. I think for the most part, I would hope that it takes those nerves away because it’s like your day-to-day job that will just come naturally and just be basic instinct, and you wouldn’t have anything to be nervous about.


Cool. And in your experience as a program adviser, were there certain areas or themes where you found that childcare programs were struggling to meet the requirements? Was there anything consistent there or was it totally variable across all of them?


I would say it was variable across because the CCEYA would always be changed or there would always be amendments to it. So, things were constantly changing. So, I think the one thing that I can think of was just being up-to-date and current with the provincial standards. So, when a policy would change or when something would be added to the Child Care and Early Years Act.

Licensees do their best to be current and up-to-date with those requirements. But sometimes, as understandably so, directors and owners can get very busy and it could be overlooked. So, at the time an inspection does occur, it may not be the most current policy that’s updated. So, I think maybe just staying current was one of the trends and themes that I’ve experienced when a licensee or an operator was not in compliance with a requirement.


And I guess taking that went a step further – maybe this is a bit of a loaded question – but if you’re a childcare program operator-owner, you’re dealing with all the challenges and struggles of running a childcare program, which you know because that’s one of the benefits you have, is you’ve been on both sides of an inspection, as you said.

I think there’s some times folks feel like, “Why do I have to do this? This feels like it’s just something I have to check a box but it’s not actually helping my program; it’s not helping my families; it’s not helping my children.” Did you feel like you ever kind of ran into that? And what’s your thoughts on that?


So, that is a loaded question, Ron. Let’s see, let’s see, okay. So yeah, for sure. And I feel like I can answer this. Again, I have that advantage of looking at it [from] both lenses and both perspectives of being in a program where the licensing inspection would occur and I would disagree with what my performance or what my day-to-day looked like. And we would be cited in noncompliance.

So yeah, it feels like it could be done both ways because, going back to my role as program advisor, we had to make sure that our observations and our summary reports were very accurate because they were public documentation for everyone to see. So, we had to make sure that documentation was accurate putting down.

And when we would get that feedback or that kind of pushback from an operator, say, for example, attendance records or ratios of the children, keeping that on track, “Why do we have to do this? Why do we have to make sure?” I think at the end of the day, something like that, I would always go back to something like the CCEYA and say, “This is for the health, safety and well-being of the children.”

And going back to even, again, that reflection piece where we would say, “Why are we in the fields? What is our goal as early-childhood educators?” We want to provide high quality care; we want to make sure learning experiences are authentic and provide the best possible experiences for children and their families because we also partner with them.

So, it does get it frustrating and I could totally understand. And I think that’s where the empathy comes in. As a program advisor, we still have a job to do. But at the end of the day, this is ensuring that that job protects the health and well-being of the children in care. And that was my responsibility to the Ontario Ministry of Education.

And of course, here in Ontario, it’s our responsibility as registered ECE’s. We owe that to the college and to our profession. So, it is, it does get tedious, it does get repetitive. But we’re here to do a job and it is our role and it is our responsibility to make sure that it’s done.


Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. And I think it’s a little bit like maybe thinking of it similar to an early-childhood educator where you hope others respect and value your education, knowledge and professionalism as an ECE. Conversely, we can respect and value what the folks bring to the table that are creating these policies, in terms of valuing the health and safety of the children and knowing that they’re putting their expertize to use when they put these policies together. And they do it for a reason.


Yeah, for sure. And I always say this during an inspection: “We’re not the ones that make the CCEYA. We’re not the ones that make the policies. We’re there to enforce it and make sure that it’s being complied and followed.”


Here’s another question. I’m going to try to be like the childcare center director now; I’m going to be asking you all these questions. One of the things that we hear, which I’m sure is not just a thing in Ontario, I’m sure it’s kind of everywhere. How does the ministry ensure that the program advisors are as consistent as possible across different cities and geographies? Because I’m sure there are certain processes or whatever that you follow. But maybe Jaizel does hers one way and somebody else in another city does it another way. Anything you could share about that?


Yeah, for sure, 100%. And I’ve come across this probably at every licensing visit because if you’re not a new center and if this isn’t your first inspection, you always get a director, operator or supervisor saying, “Well, last year this PA said this was in compliance and it’s the same thing this year and now we’re not in compliance. And why is that?”

And the best response we can give: We try our best, 100%, to be as consistent as possible during our inspections, during our processes. We had internal processes to follow and we definitely do our due diligence to make sure it’s being followed right down to the T’s.

So, I think the best response to that that I could give… it may not be a well-liked response, but we would always say, “I appreciate that feedback; I appreciate you sharing that with me. We can look into that summary report and see what the compliance was and why it’s not in compliance today.”

“But then again, we can’t speak to that program advisor at that moment in time last year when the inspection was done because right now we’re focusing on the present time. And what I’ve observed right now seems not to be consistent with the provincial guidelines.

“So, I can’t speak to what that program advisor observed at that time. But right now, today, we can discuss it and see if there’s a solution with it. But we try our best to be consistent. But as of this time, it could be cited as a noncompliance. If you could show us otherwise, where it would be in compliance.”

So, there’s definitely a gray area, I would say, that’s not always pleasant. It’s not the best conversation to have. And I think those are one of the challenges I faced as a program advisor where it’s when we say one thing and the next time it’s another thing. We just try our best to collaborate and work with the current situation and the director in place to see if there was something overlooked or if there was a misunderstanding.


Yeah. Yeah, and I think maybe part of it is maybe thinking of the licensing folks. And in the case of Ontario, the program advisor is kind of like almost like a partner, I guess, right? Like, you all have the same intentions in mind, which is the well-being of the children, right? So, I think maybe taking that perspective, versus the licensor is there to sort of slap you on the wrist with penalties.


Exactly, yeah, for sure.


Cool. And this is a question out of curiosity, which is more of a personal one for you, which is, why did you decide to go this route? So, you were an early-childhood educator; you had some experience working in the centers. Why did you decide to get some experience as a program advisor?


Yeah, and I think being an early-childhood educator, everyone has their own route to go on what they decide to do if they want to stay in a program, if they want to be a director one day or go into another field of ECE.

And I think for me, back in 2006, what really sparked my interest and curiosity was my first licensing visit. And I remember this day very vividly when I was teaching a preschool program full time, my first job right out of college. And at that time I was teaching preschool and did an after-school program. And it wasn’t under the CCEYA. The CCEYA is relatively new to Ontario, since 2014.

So, we were working under the Day Nurseries Act, which was very outdated. And the program advisor at that time had come in and she was inspecting my school-age program. And I had no idea who she was or what she was doing or why she was there. And I remember being very scared and nervous.

And once I got chatting with her because she was asking me a bunch of questions about, I think, my art area and the kinds of materials we did for art, things like that. She got very interested and started writing things down. And I asked her what her role was. And she said, “Well, I’m a program advisor and the director sent me here to do an inspection of your school-age program.”

And what inspired me the most was that she was there to ensure that these materials were we’re not out-of-date; there was enough materials for everybody; it went with my program planning; I was following the framework; I was in compliance with the Day Nurseries Act at that time.

And I thought, “What an amazing opportunity it is to see different programs and ensure high-quality standards for childcare programs.” Because from my 15 years of experience, I think my utmost goal, if anything, was to ensure high-quality childcare. And I went the route of applying for a role with the Ministry of Education because I wanted to see different programs in action.

In my role, I was responsible for Peel Region here in Ontario, as well as Toronto, within my caseload. And I got to see just different types of programs. And being able to represent the CCEYA and making sure that educators, directors and owners were in compliance and providing high quality care I think was always a goal in mind to go this route. And I’m so glad that I was able to do a contract with the Ministry.


Yeah, that’s great. And also a perfect segue way when talking about seeing new things and learning new things. Professional development resource: can you think of any anything that comes to mind that you think would be great for our audience to check out for their own learning as they listen to the Podcast here today?


Yeah, of course. And I think as an advocate for professional development, one of the things that I’ve always looked to… I mean, it’s here in Ontario but I know they have a lot of many accessible resources that could be shared throughout. So, I always go to the Association for Early Childhood Educators in Ontario. So, the AECYO.

And from there, there’s so many different webinars, websites, e-courses. So, the ones that speak to mind right now are Inspire To Learn or the Early Learning Cafe. There’s links there on the website itself where you can access webinars, resources and e-courses for professional development. And it’s always good to have handy when it comes close to staying current with the trends of ECE.


Awesome. And if people want to get in touch with you, Jaizel, how can they do that?


Yeah, for sure. I’m always updating my LinkedIn profile. So, you can just search me online. It’s Jaizel Delos Santos. I stay current as much as possible with, I do have an Instagram account for my own professional development, sharing my own resources and ideas for children’s activities and learning and development. So that, you can find me on Instagram, it’s @Jaizel.REC.reggio [@jaizel.d.reggio.rece] on Instagram. So, you can find me there. And yeah, it’s more so now for my two-year-old daughter because it’s kind of taken over for toddler activities. So, if you have a toddler classroom in mind, that’s right up your alley.


Oh, fun, fun, toddlers, everybody’s favorite!


I taught toddlers for, like, two years or a year. And yeah, it’s very interesting. And now I have one of my own, so it’s even more interesting.


Yeah, good fun, they’re good fun. This has been wonderful, Jaizel. So, with your very varied experience in the classroom and running childcare programs and then being a program advisor and then coming to HiMama, you’ve seen a real breadth of childcare and early learning programs. So, thanks so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast to share that with us today!


Oh, thank you, Ron. It was my pleasure!

Kiah Price

Kiah Price is a Social Media Specialist at HiMama. Prior to HiMama she was an Early Childhood Educator in a preschool classroom in Toronto. She is the Jill of all trades at HiMama from dipping her toes in Sales, Customer Success, Operations, and Marketing! She enjoys sweating through spin classes, hot yoga, and biking along the waterfront trails in Toronto. She loves traveling and trying new foods and wines across the globe- 29 countries and counting!