Operators welcome Alberta government’s changes to child-care system

The Alberta government is making changes to the province’s child-care system that it says will “meet the needs of families and operators.”. The Canadian Press

The Alberta government is making changes to the province’s child-care system that it says will “meet the needs of families and operators.”

The changes come after daycare operators in Alberta voiced concerns over the rollout of the $10-a-day child-care program.

Krystal Churcher, chair of the Association for Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs, said one of the biggest concerns has centred around the funding model.

“All of us are experiencing substantial delays in having reimbursements from the provincial government, which then has a massive trickle effect into our centres and the viability of our centres, the impact on the quality of our centres and on staffing,” Churcher said.

In a news release Friday afternoon, the province announced it is “actively working on a new system that will streamline payment processes and ensure child-care operators receive affordability grant payments faster.”

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The province said this work will be done in partnership with the Ministry of Technology and Innovation, and more information will be released in the coming weeks.

“I am pleased to be working with the Ministry of Children and Family Services and the Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Trade to ensure child-care operators are receiving their grant payments quickly, easily and efficiently,” Minister of Technology and Innovation Nate Glubish said in a statement.

Churcher said the association has a good relationship with Glubish, and while she doesn’t have details of the new payment system, she is optimistic the changes will be positive.

“I think that it’s going to bring some fresh ideas to the surface, some solutions that we can put forward — whether it’s paying operators on the first of the month and then ratifying it later if needed. Or if it’s moving more towards a pay-the-parent model and voucher system,” Churcher said.

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“We’re very optimistic that with the news today, it’s going to be a real positive step forward.”

Click to play video: 'Some Alberta daycares begin rolling closures to protest $10 per day child care'
Some Alberta daycares begin rolling closures to protest $10 per day child care

Another change being made is the ministry in charge of the province’s work on child care. Up until now, Minister of Children and Family Services Searle Turton had taken the lead on child care. Now, the responsibility will fall to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Trade Matt Jones.

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The province said Jones has “extensive experience” from his time as minister of children’s services. He has been tasked with working with the federal government to address the concerns of Alberta child-care operators “to ensure child care remains sustainable for Alberta families.”

“I look forward to supporting our entrepreneurial and innovative child-care operators as they continue to provide world-class care to Albertans and their children,” Jones said in a statement.

Alberta NDP critic for children’s services said in statement that the UCP needs to address that their formula is broken and address the provincial funding shortfall in budget 2024.

“Child-care operators have been carrying the consequences of the UCP’s failures in effectively rolling out an affordable, accessible, quality child care program. The $10/day child-care program was designed to be a cost-share agreement between the federal government and the provinces, and the UCP has not stepped up,” Diana Batten said in a statement.

“Since the beginning of this deal, the UCP has done a poor job in launching and investing in this important child-care program for Albertans, so I’m not sure what Danielle Smith believes switching up the person in charge of its organization will accomplish.”

Click to play video: 'Albertans asked to give input on child care as critics call for changes'
Albertans asked to give input on child care as critics call for changes

Churcher said the industry has worked with four different ministers over the past two years. She’s hopeful the new ministers will advocate for Alberta families federally to make sure the $10-a-day program is being created to work in this province.

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“We can only go up from where we are in our sector right now. We are in a crisis level for funding our programs. We’re being steamrolled by a federal program that isn’t fitting into our province’s child-care sector,” Churcher said.

“When things are not working, you don’t want to keep beating your head against the wall trying to make it work. We need to take a step back and that’s what we’ve been asking the premier to do, is take a step back. Let’s really evaluate this program and make sure it’s going to work for Alberta and for Alberta families.”

The federal government’s 2021 budget included a $30-billion, five-year offer that would eventually cut costs to families to $10 a day by 2025-26.

Every province and territory has signed on to the deal. In exchange for the federal money, provinces had to implement the federal vision, which, while cutting fees, also sought to increase wages for child-care workers.

Some operators have said the federal-provincial agreements limit the fees they can charge while not providing enough support to cover all their costs.

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