What was being described as a ‘fantastic’ deal for childcare in Canada turned out to be ‘not that great’, according to some center operators and Alberta parents.
Cliff Dawson North, president of Calgary’s Little Worlds Learning Center, was just one of many excited launchers of a $10-a-day childcare ad out of Ottawa last year.
“We cried when we got this news,” he told Global News.
But he said those happy tears quickly turned to frustration when he learned the deal was focused on not-for-profit centers – not private ones like him. Financing for the for-profit sector was ultimately determined at the governmental level, but not to the same extent.
For Little Worlds, this resulted in 21 of its 102 places not being funded.
“We were told, ‘You can run it, but you won’t get any help from the government,'” said Alba Clavigo, managing director and founder of the facility.
“What has happened is that there is now a two-tier system in Alberta,” Dawson North added.
“How is it possible for a child to sit in a classroom next to another child, where one family receives the beautiful gift of full financial benefit, and the other receives nothing. How is that right? It’s not right.”
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Crystal Churchill of the Early Learning Center in Fort McMurray has heard about this from a lot of private operators. This was one of the main reasons why I did not open a new position in Calgary.
Another reason is licensing requirements. Under the agreement, centers must be fully licensed before November 2021 in order to receive any funding. Even those who wanted to expand the existing facilities had to stick to this deadline.
“Our centers are kind of at a standstill,” Churchill said. “We cannot open new positions and we cannot expand our existing positions.”
These centers also do not have access to a pay increase for employees, which leaves them at a disadvantage in Alberta’s tough and competitive labor market.
“Retaining employees when you can’t raise wages in your position is really difficult,” she added.
Churcher said the bilateral agreement had not been properly contemplated in Alberta, where most of the private sector is. According to its statistics, 675 child care centers – or 120,000 child care places – are private.
“So centers are stuck charging full prices and hoping families are willing to pay them. We just procrastinate and create these huge waiting lists.”
Calgary’s father Andrew DeAngelis was on one of those waiting lists, even though he registered his son in childcare months ago.
“We started putting him on a waiting list even before he was born,” he said.
He also does not understand the financing formula and is frustrated by the lack of equal opportunity.
“Why do we have to pay more than someone else sitting in the same room at the same school?” Asked.
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Another growing concern in the industry is sustainability. Advocates for private child care told Global News that these restrictions will result in centers closing, or simply not starting.
“I think you’re going to see fewer small businesses, and fewer people like me, opening positions because the stakes are huge,” Churchill explained.
It’s a risk Hind Ali, who runs Future Kids Daycare & After School in Edmonton, wishes she hadn’t taken. She started planning her center back in 2020, and took out a loan and lease for 22 years. However, its position was only licensed at the end of the year, making it ineligible for any new funding.
“All the daycares around me, all their spaces are full. We have the space. We have the materials. We have everything prepared, but we have no children. I have lost sleep, like what am I going to do?” she asked.
“I had to tell my four young children that there was a good chance we would lose our home because I’m putting it as collateral for this location.”
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Like many for-profit companies, Ali said it offers discounts to parents. But she said she simply can’t afford it in the long run, and the payment may falter.
“They are simply pressuring us to turn into a non-profit organization because who wants to go bankrupt after all that hard work?”
Other operators added that they aren’t the only ones who stand to lose – lower positions also mean fewer options.
“You’ll lose your options as parents,” Churchill said. “There will be less diverse programs in your communities, and there will be fewer specialized programs.”
“Our new generation will have no options,” Clavigo noted. “I think the right thing is for parents to choose what’s best for their children.”
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Global News has reached out to both the federal and provincial governments to obtain answers to these questions and concerns.
“Prioritizing non-profit, licensed delivery ensures proper and reasonable use of public funds, while ensuring quality of care meets standards set by provinces and territories,” a federal spokesperson told Global News.
The Alberta government told Global News it had “struggled very hard to make sure private operators were included”.
As a result, it added, it was able to set aside an additional 2,700 private space for new special programs ready to open this spring.
Both governments told Global News that they are currently working on creating a “cost control framework” to ensure that any additional “government-funded” money earned by for-profit centers goes directly to improving services. It is expected to be implemented in early 2023 and should allow the creation and financing of new private spaces.
As for the money left on the table now, the county added that it will go to future programs.
The concern of special child care advocates is that it may be too late.
“It’s the kids who are going to lose here,” Dawson North said.
Meanwhile, a petition to change the rules and restrictions was launched before this could happen by Alberta’s child care pioneers.
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