(Watch: Population growth, funding and space are some factors leading to an Alberta child care crunch. Laurel Gregory has more.)
EDMONTON – If you have a baby – or are planning for one – you’d better get in line. For child care, that is.
Critics say child care provision in Alberta has reached a crisis point. Day care spaces at the Oliver Centre Early Learning Program in Edmonton are at a premium.
“We’re very strained,” said Sue MacLean, the executive director. “We have over 300 plus families on our wait list. We get calls daily regarding space for their child. A lot of times… our parents call immediately once they conceive to be put on our wait list.
“That leaves them with a two-year waiting time.”
There are more than 300 children on that two to three-year waiting list. According to Public Interest Alberta, this is a province-wide issue. Results from its recent survey show 63 per cent of child care centres have wait lists.
“This isn’t just an issue about supporting young families and young parents – which is incredibly important – it’s also about making sure the children get quality education and development, and it’s good for the economy,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, president of Public Interest Alberta.
The group is calling on the government to develop a comprehensive approach to providing quality child care, instead of relying on a market-based approach.
“We have a government whining about the fact that they can’t find enough workers and, at the same time, refuse to take the prudent steps that would ensure that young parents – particularly, usually, young mothers – can get back into the workplace faster,” said NDP leader Rachel Notley.
The premier said the issue is on his radar.
“I intend to meet with the minister and discuss it,” said Jim Prentice.
“I have indicated that I’m sensitive to the challenge. I have grandchildren myself and I’m very aware that we need to deal with this and we’ll look at the options.”
Finding a caregiver can be even more challenging for parents of infants or children with disabilities. The PIA survey found one-third of child care centres and day homes (excluding school-aged care programs) do not provide infant care. It also found 62 per cent of respondents do not provide care for children with complex special needs. (You can read the survey below).
“This survey reveals the impact on families of years of government underfunding of childcare,” said Moore-Kilgannon.
“A year ago… the government made a cut to our quality funding and also to our child care expansion space,” explained MacLean. “We used to be able to get funds from them to open new spaces… it was a real help… It was called the Space Creation Program.”
MacLean said while government funding is one issue, another is finding space to expand. She has been meeting with the city for a year now, trying to find room.
“I haven’t found anything that would even be close to affordable to host a program like this.” The program’s current space is rented from Edmonton Public Schools. “We’re very lucky that the Edmonton school board gives us this space at a lower cost so that we don’t have to charge huge, high costs for child care.”