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Answers sought for new child care deal

Regional day home and daycare operators need more information about landmark deal between Alberta and Ottawa
MVT Innisfail Family Day Home Society 1
Reshann Butts, coordinator of the Innisfail & Area Family Day Home Society, is still looking for answers from the province to measure the impact for her agency from the $3.8-billion child care agreement that was announced on Nov. 15 by the Alberta and federal governments. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – With 2022 fast approaching parents relying on regional day home and daycare facilities across the region will soon feel relief from exorbitant monthly child care bills, and potentially seeing an end to one of the most pressing and often unfair financial issues burdening families across the province.

“I think this is huge. From what the government has released they’re saying single parents will be paying less potentially, $10 (a day) for sure, and then it will be income-based so that people who are earning more will pay a bit more,” said Reshann Butts, coordinator of the Innisfail & Area Family Day Home Society, an agency that charges about $780 a month for child care at its 19 day homes across the region. She’s hoping her agency’s daily $39 parent fee for child care will be cut in half by spring.

“I think it is a good thing for a family starting out,” she said. “Right now, we’ve got lots of children that are part-time because parents can only afford to work maybe three days a week. Maybe now they can afford to work full time because child care is lower.”

However, Butts and other regional child care operators are a bit nervous today. They say more answers are still needed from the $3.8-billion child care agreement announced on Nov. 15 between the Alberta and federal governments, and promising an average of $10-a-day child care to Alberta families within five years.

The announcement also called for a 50 per cent reduction in fees for licensed programs starting in January, as well as 42,500 new regulated early-learning and daycare spaces by the end of March 2026. There’s also new funding for wage top-ups for certified early childhood educators, as well as professional development monies and infant care incentives.

“We need to know how it’s all going to play out. We need to know how the money is coming to us and when it’s coming to us so we can cut our parent fees in half. We need to know how that looks like,” said Butts, adding she’s aware the scheduled starting date for facility-based daycare is set for January. “We are a little bit farther behind. I’m hoping it will all be in place for April 1. I am hoping earlier but I’m hoping by the very latest it’s April 1. I think our parents deserve a reduced income just as fast as the day care centre parents, right?”

Care in Didsbury

M. J. Paul has been the owner of Didsbury’s Kidsbury Daycare for 35 years. She said the little information that has been released from the province needs more clarification.

“We don’t know if we have to sign a contract or an agreement with the government,” she said, adding her agency now charges $775 a month per child for full-time hours. “We have a meeting of Alberta directors (this week) to try and come together because it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to us yet.

“A lot of parents are already subsidized so it would benefit subsidized parents and it would benefit middle income parents,” added Paul. “More parents would qualify for a subsidy, but I don’t know if that means they are going to apply for it.”

Positive move forward in Sundre

Sundre’s Korie Graham is the owner and operator of Mount Imagination Childcare Centre — a privately-run, for-profit, fully licensed daycare — that currently charges $8 per hour, which depending on how much time a child stays at the centre, can range anywhere between $100 to $800 a month.

She noted the program remains in the early stages. She also praised the efforts of Rebecca Schulz, Alberta’s minister of Children’s Services, in keeping the sector up to speed through regular town hall phone conferences.

However, while Graham believes the announced program presents a positive move forward, it also leaves plenty of room for improvement.

“Unfortunately, from my perspective, they didn’t include the school-age children. So, that makes it a little tougher on those parents since their kids will be here less than daycare kids, but will end up paying more,” she said. “As soon as they’re enrolled in kindergarten, they age out,” she said, adding parents in that situation will simply remain on existing subsidies.

“They’re hoping to fix that. (Schulz) says it’s a step in the right direction, but not fully what everyone wants,” she said.

Mount Imagination has a capacity of 35 children, but does not reach that limit these days, especially since any cold-like symptoms requires a child to stay at home.

“Depending on if everybody is healthy, right now we’re averaging between 25 and 30 kids a day,” she said.

Under the new program, she added, some parents are poised to pay much less.

“Right now, our fees are so low that some parents could pay as little as $24 a month. It’s just what (the provincial government’s) proposed for numbers, and what our fees are,” she said, adding there will be a far greater understanding of how it all will work come January.

“It’s figuring out how to rebalance that.”

With files from Simon Ducatel and Dan Singleton