LAKELAND - While many daycares in the Lakeland region report keeping their doors open on Jan. 30, several daycare centres in Alberta were closed as an act of protest due to challenges posed by the Alberta child care affordability grant.
The grant is made possible through a federal-provincial childcare agreement. Through the agreement, $3.8 billion will be invested in childcare for children up to kindergarten-age and $2.865 billion is being used to lower childcare fees for Alberta parents.
But there have been issues with the program and childcare providers are feeling the pinch financially. The crisis has prompted a campaign that aims to highlight the insufficiency of funds allocated to daycares.
“The Affordability Grant program has caused severe financial strain for many operators across the province, and the government has not yet offered a solution or listened to those that we propose,” according to The Association of Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs.
In light of these challenges, the association emphasizes the necessity of the ongoing protests to make a statement. “We have no choice but to begin taking further action, and as such, many centers across Alberta will initiate rolling closures, with the first being Jan. 30, 2024.”
Most daycare centres in Cold Lake, Bonnyville, and St. Paul chose not to participate in the rolling closures. And a daycare owner in Bonnyville says she has no alternative but to keep her establishment operational, despite the challenges.
Uta Squire, owner of Happy House Daycare in Bonnyville, laid out the financial challenges she faces, stating, “I only have $12,000 to work with at the beginning of the month to pay rent, mortgage, utilities, and make sure I have enough money for the first payroll.” This financial shortfall has resulted in difficulties meeting the payroll of her 48 staff members.
But Squire knows the repercussions of closing her daycare would be huge.
“Am I going to leave 48 staff with no job? Am I going to hurt the community and close my doors and 500 families do not have childcare? How is that going to impact our community? It's not just an impact, it's going to severely impact our community. So, I'm better off to stay open.”
Acknowledging her limited options, Squire says she will “Bite the bullet, try to save my pennies, try to squeeze whatever I can do to make it worthwhile and pray that the government will do something for childcare.”
Reassuring local parents, Squire states, “I have good, qualified educators that put their heart and soul into their job. So just because funding is tight doesn’t mean they're going to neglect the children.”
Elk Point’s Play2Learn Daycare also kept its doors open last week.
“We understand that there is a need for daycare in our small community so families can go to work, and we are full in every classroom,” owner at Play2Learn Katelynn Caron says. “We have a wait list for full-time spots so it was important for us to stay open and operating as per usual.”
However, “Since the new affordability grant started in January, we definitely struggled to get through the month. We had to cut back on supplies and watch our spending. Going into February, we have very little money while waiting for the government money to come in, and bills will have to be paid late.”
Caron acknowledges that the grant is “a great thing for the families, yes, but it sure isn’t great for the centre itself when we are waiting for the government money to come in so we can finally pay bills.”
Caron has been with Play2Learn since 2011 and took over the operation from Melanie Poulin about two years ago. Poulin started the daycare 2009 and transitioned to a not-for-profit centre, officially launching Play2Learn Child Care Ltd. in 2018.
Play2 Learn was one of the Alberta daycares to take part in the province’s three-year, $25 per day pilot project launched in 2017 to provide affordable care.
Poulin, now living in BC, says she knows daycares struggle to make ends meet.
“The expenses the daycare incurs, and needs to pay at the first of the month, such as payroll, food, rent and utilities, need to be covered. You’ll have people quitting. That’s why (daycare operators) need emergency operating loans, because the operators have to invoice the government for the funds that make the space affordable for families. Although the government has allotted the funds to make daycare affordable to parents, they handcuff the providers to increase daycare rates to cover expenses." She adds, "In theory, this will work, but the government leans heavily on providers to bridge the gap. That’s the issue.”
The goal of the childcare agreement was to have average licensed childcare fees lowered to $15 per day by 2023-24 and a further reduction to $10 per day by 2025-26, according to the Government of Alberta.
The program also ensures families have options that suit their needs, including creating new spaces, supporting licensed childcare providers, and allowing flexibility for drop-in or overnight childcare.
A statement provided by Minister of Children and Family Services Searle Turton says the province stands firmly behind childcare operators, recognizing their challenges. “Childcare operators have my full support, and I recognize the difficult situation they are in,” said Turton.
“The Premier will be requesting a meeting with the federal minister to discuss this further and to urge the federal government to consider changes to the framework that would support operators facing inflationary pressures,” adds the minister.
“Affordability is a major concern for all Albertans right now. Our priority must be ensuring an affordable and sustainable childcare system for operators and families,” says Turton.
*With files from Vicki Brooker