Fee hikes at provincially-funded daycare society set to erase new child care subsidies

File photo.
File photo. Alexandra Beier/Getty Images/File

A parent whose child attends a Burnaby daycare is raising concerns after being slapped with a 15 per cent fee increase — just as the province rolls out new child care subsidies.

The Purpose Society, a non-profit group that runs several daycares in Burnaby and New Westminster, sent parents a letter in February saying the fee hike was needed to pay and retain staff.

But parent Carol, who did not want her last name used, told Global News she’s not seeing any serious change in the quality of care for the increased cost.

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“They’ve taken away activities, so why am I paying more to get less,” she said.

Effective next month, fees at Madison Children’s Centre for Carol’s four-year-old son will climb by $130 per month, she said.

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“[It’s] going up to $985, but for the parents who have two children, they are paying $200 to $300 more per month.”

The Purpose Society received more than $2.3 million in provincial funding in 2015-2016, and Carol said she doesn’t understand the rationale for making parents pay more.

But Embree  says the society holds several contracts with the government like youth and family services. And that money is divided up.

“The majority of the provincial contracts have nothing to do with the daycares. We currently receive about $577,000/yr  in provincial funding that is for the daycare programs.”

“In the past year, there’s been no field trips, no hot lunches, they’ve done absolutely nothing,” she said.

But the Purpose Society maintains the increase is necessary to avoid a staffing crisis. In a letter to parents dated Feb. 5, it acknowledges the short notice for the hikes, but says wages offered to its employees are low compared to other facilities in Burnaby and New Westminster.

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“Over the past few years, we have been working to slowly increase wages, but the current staffing situation has forced us to take more drastic action. We are not paying a living wage for some of the positions and our wages are currently uncompetitive with other centres,” it said.

In a statement to Global News, Purpose Society executive director Dawn Embree said the hike was unavoidable.

“We are currently facing a staffing crisis in the child care sector, and we need to raise our wages to a more competitive rate so that we are able to hire and retain qualified staff.”

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NDP promises major funding for child care and housing in throne speech

Vanishing subsidy

The fee hikes come just as the province unveils its ambitious new $1-billion childcare program. A key component of that program is a direct subsidy to child care facilities intended to lower the fees parents pay.

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Under the NDP plan, participating licensed group child care facilities would get up to $350-per-month per-child to offset fees for infants and toddlers and up to $100-per-month for children aged three to five.

In Carol’s case, that still means a net increase of $30 per month.

In the case of toddlers, the new fees would mean maximum fee reductions would be slashed from $350 per month to $160.

Minister responsible for child care Katrina Chen said the province is still working with child care providers to iron out the details of the program.

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“I don’t think we should get ahead of ourselves, because we are currently having conversations with providers. Sometimes rent increases or costs increase because they need to maintain health and safety for their operations,” she said.

Pressed on whether the government’s fee subsidies could be erased by new fee increases at daycares, Chen said that was out of the government’s hands.

“For providers who face an unexpected increase of the cost of their operations, we are really happy to work with them on a case by case basis, and also look at their historical fee increases and see if their current fee increase is reasonable.”

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The province’s child care subsidies are set to kick in in April.