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Fall River families left in lurch after province delays licensing for child care centre

Click to play video: 'Parents call on Nova Scotia to grant Fall River child care centre license for younger children' Parents call on Nova Scotia to grant Fall River child care centre license for younger children
Parents in Fall River have been left in a lurch after the Department of Education has denied a license to allow a local child care centre to expand its services to children aged 18 months to three years. Alicia Draus explains – Nov 8, 2021

The Fall River Child Care Centre has been struggling to stay open.  During the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents were encouraged to keep their kids at home, leaving the business without revenue. Then, with the move towards pre-primary programs in schools, demand for private preprimary programs has dropped.

Owners Lindsay Awalt and Molly Rogers say as they discussed financial support options with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development they were advised to change their business model.

“They recommended that we change and lower the age group, because there’s a demand in the area and full day child care is a more sustainable program,” said Rogers.

That was back in May, and it’s when the pair initiated the process to expand their licence to include a daycare program for children 18 months to three years old.

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Read more: N.S. auditor general says pre-primary program was not adequately planned

“We went ahead and made all our licensing changes, we had our health inspector in, our fire inspector in, we had our consultants in and reviewed all the paperwork that we submitted.”

Throughout the summer the centre began the necessary renovations to accommodate younger children, which included installing additional fencing, having a washing and diaper changing station, purchasing cots, and more toddler-appropriate toys.

Throughout the entire process, the plan was to open Sept. 13, and the final inspection with the department was scheduled for Sept. 8.

“Our licensing officer came out on Sept. 8 to do the final inspection where they assured us there would be no reason why we wouldn’t have our licence to start operating the Monday morning,” said Awalt.

But that licence never came. The owners say they were then told that because of the Canada Wide Plan agreement Nova Scotia signed with the federal government on July 13 to bring in $10-a-day daycare, they would have to either change to a not-for-profit centre, give up current funding to receive a new licence or keep their funding and keep the current licence, which was for preschool mornings and school age children.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau government, N.S., announce $10-per-day childcare by 2026.' Trudeau government, N.S., announce $10-per-day childcare by 2026.
Trudeau government, N.S., announce $10-per-day childcare by 2026 – Jul 13, 2021

Rogers says they decided they would give up their funding to expand their age group, but says they were once again advised by the department to delay signing the funding termination papers until they had more details on the Canada-Wide Early Learning Child Care Agreement and what that would entail.

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The owners, however, did decide they would still follow through with their mid-September opening as nine families had already registered for care.

“We had families waiting for care, and expecting care, and we thought that that licence would maybe be a few days away with maybe a few paperwork hitches. We didn’t realize it would be a two-month rollercoaster of disaster, essentially,” said Rogers.

Kayla Kearney is among those who had already registered her son after taking an extended maternity leave of 18 months.

“When this one opened for (18 month old children), I was able to go back to work,” said Kearney.

“I literally just started a brand new job at the IWK in the autism preschool program that I would not be able to have without this child care.”

Kearney says she was aware the licence hadn’t been officially granted but was not concerned as it was in the works, and says the centre has been amazing for her son.

“He absolutely loves it. He’s thriving, he’s meeting new friends, I can already tell that his vocabulary and mannerisms are coming along so well and this is because of their attention to detail,” she said.

Department suspends granting of licenses

In mid-October a memo was sent out to child care centre operators announcing that because the province had signed on to the Canada-Wide Early Early Learning Child Care Agreement, the province would be prioritizing the creation and operation of new spaces in not-for-profit and publicly funded childcare sector.

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“Nova Scotia will place a hold on all requests for new spaces in for-profit licensed child care programs effective immediately for six months until Operators have had an opportunity to review their options to join the Canada wide system.”

Rogers and Awalt say they’re onboard with the Canada-Wide early Learning Child Care Agreement and are open to switching to a model that better suits that when more information is available, but at this point there are no details on what that would look like.

“Our licence was in process since May, and we’ve been waiting since September,” said Rogers.

“So if they were unable to process a licence Oct.15 and forward, why didn’t they give us a licence prior to that?”

Parents call for department to grant license

On Thursday, Nov. 5, a representative from the Department of Early Childhood Development stopped by the child care centre and handed notices to families stating that because the centre was not licensed, they would no longer be able to care for children under three years old.

“We’re just completely devastated and heartbroken,” said Jane Warner, whose daughter has been attending the daycare since September.

“I just don’t even know what to think or what to do, we don’t have child care along with all these other families that don’t have child care,” she said on Monday.

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“We feel like the government is just not helping this childcare centre and therefor is affecting all these families.”

On Monday morning, several of the families banded together and showed up at the Department of Education and Early Childhood development, hoping to speak with the minister or other department staff to plea their case and have the licence for the daycare centre expanded to allow children from 18 months to three years old.

“Having a full time child care for children under three is absolutely essential because there’s no other child care available, licensed facilities available in the area for child of that age group. “‘

Families waited at the department office on Brunswick Street for over three hours but nobody would meet with them.

Global News requested an interview with the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, but she was not made available.

In a statement, the department says, “This centre discussed opting out of the Canada-Wide system, which would mean families would not be eligible for $10 a day child care. There is currently a pause on new licensing to ensure that all parents and their children benefit in the future in our universal childcare system.”

Parents say they’re frustrated with the government’s failure to provide a licence to this daycare and that while they support universal child care, the program’s full rollout is still years away and they need child care now.

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“I don’t think it’s fair at all. These guys were under the process to change the licence even before this rolled out so this shouldn’t be affecting them as far as I’m concerned,” said parent Karla DeYoung.

Kearney, a mother of two, agrees that in this case, there is no reason to delay the licence.

“They’re saying that it’s going to be by the end of 2022 to actually see (universal child care) come forward and to see the $10-a-day come into play by 2026, our kids will be in school by then, this is not going to help us,” said Kearney,

“I understand the importance of it, and I’m all for it, but I still feel like in the meantime this licence needs to be put forward immediately.”

The statement from the department also says they will connect with anyone who wants to discuss their individual child care needs and will support families to help them find a space.

“I definitely don’t want to send him anywhere else, I refused to send him anywhere else,” said Kearney, who notes that the only help she’s received so far are suggestions from department staff that she send her son to a child care centre in Enfield.

“I can’t drive past my child care centre that I could be sending my kid to every single day to drive to Enfield to then drive all the way to the IWK. It’s absolutely ludicrous, it makes no sense.”

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