Struggling economy hits daycares as Alberta parents pull children

Economy takes its toll on daycares
WATCH ABOVE: With the ailing economy taking its toll on Alberta families, many can no longer afford daycare. As Sarah Kraus reports, that’s now having a ripple effect on the daycares themselves.

As parents in Alberta lose their jobs or have their hours at work cut back, daycare is quickly becoming an expense they can’t afford.

In Riviere Qui Barre, parents Anik Cote and Steven Abraham had to make tough decisions to deal with a shrinking budget.

Abraham is a pipeyard worker who was laid off one month ago. Cote worked for CN and when her maternity leave ended, cutbacks meant she didn’t have a job to go back to.

READ MORE: 2015 worst year for Alberta job losses since 1982 

Their one-year-old son Gabriel was going to daycare at a cost of $700 a month – equivalent to half their rent. The couple said childcare quickly became something they couldn’t justify.

“He’s the stay-at-home dad now and I’m trying to scramble three jobs and get the money in, as much as I can,” Cote said. “Daycare wise, I mean, right now, it’s an expense that we just can’t afford.”

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For Abraham, it’s meant a big transition.

“I was used to working every day, getting up at six, leaving and not coming back until later. Now it’s just me and him every day.”

They are not the only family keeping kids at home these days.

“The daycare was pretty full actually and when I removed him, I think five other families removed them for the same situation,” Cote said.

Deepak Arora hasn’t yet pulled his five-year-old son from his day home completely, though he has taken him down to part-time.

“If you’re saving $300-$400 per month out of that, why not? It helps your grocery bills, your monthly bills somehow,” Arora said.

Arora said it’s important he has someone to watch his son when he’s looking for jobs or going to interviews.

“I need that time for myself where I can say: ‘what other opportunities can I have?’”

For the last few years, Goldbar Daycare in Edmonton was full with 60 children, plus it had a wait list. Now it’s down to just 43 kids. Owner Harbans Sangha said parents have little choice.

“They don’t have a job,” she said. “Husband got laid off, or wife got laid off, so they can’t afford it.”

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Sangha thinks parents are leaning more on family and friends to help baby-sit and that’s forcing her to cut down her employees’ shifts.

“I did reduce some hours. But staff is not very happy. It’s not up to me. We don’t have that many children right now,” she explained.

Goldbar Daycare employs seven people and Sangha said making decisions about cutbacks is not easy.

“It’s very hard. I like my staff. I don’t want to let them go. Some of them have been working for me for eight years, four years, three years.”

READ MORE: Oil and gas layoffs force rural homelessness to rise 

Sangha said other daycare owners are going through the same thing and she expects it to get worse before it gets better.

“Eventually we’re going to have to let some staff go if this keeps going down and down.”

In Calgary, some daycares are already in that position, according to what Nicki Dublenko is hearing. She’s the chair of the Alberta Child Care Association.

“They had to close a few of their rooms and they had to lay off a few staff because enrolment was way down,” she said.

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Dublenko added there is often difficulty recruiting and retaining childcare workers because of the low salaries and she expects these layoffs to compound that problem.

She’s concerned that when the economy does pick back up, there could be fewer spaces than before for parents needing daycare for their little ones.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, childcare for toddler and preschool-aged children in Edmonton costs on average $800 a month and $910 in Calgary.

Some families may qualify for subsidies from the province to cover part of their childcare costs.