Like many two-year-olds in Ottawa, Gordon has slipped through the cracks of the city's child care system, which is straining to meet demand.

His mother, Vicky Smallman, tried for a year to find a licensed daycare position,

No such luck for Gordon. So he and his friends attend a "black market" daycare co-op operated by their parents in a rented apartment.

Parents perform one duty day a week and work with a hired caregiver to provide organic and allergy-sensitive food.

"We were all first-time parents struggling to try and find a spot for our kids," Smallman told CTV Ottawa. "We just decided we would take matters into our own hands.

"We've created this solution to fill a pretty serious gap."

Indeed, several observers are calling the national capital's child care system a "crisis." Parents are desperate for safe, affordable care that will prepare their kids for formal schooling. The result is a growing movement towards black market daycare.

"We believe that governments are leaving a lot of families and their children at high risk because they are not supporting them," said Shelley Bird, who heads the union representing local child care workers.

Between 8,000 and 12,000 Ottawa parents are on waiting lists for a regulated space, she added.

The City of Ottawa says 6,400 regulated daycare spots are needed in the next six months to meet waiting list demands. And 2,000 of the spots would need to be subsidized for low-income families.

The cost for a regulated spot can run parents $1,400 per month, said Bird.

Full- fee licensed homecare spots are relatively to find. But child care centres are a different story.

"You have to be very lucky or sit on the waiting list for a couple of years," said Diane O'Neill, the executive director of Aladin Childcare Services.

"I get about four or five calls a day, and some parents are crying. Some parents are waiting on social assistance so they can either go back to school or go to work.

"It's desperate. Parents are being forced to use the unlicensed sector."

Parents like Vicky Smallman, who said she is perfectly willing to pay for licensed child care with trained staff - if it were available.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Natalie Pierosara