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Families struggle to find child care as Nova Scotia licensing freeze prevents spaces opening

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The Universal Child Care Plan is supposed to make childcare more accessible and affordable for parents, but operators say it’s creating issues around availability. As the transition begins, Nova Scotia has put a pause on licensing. Now, a second daycare says it has had trouble expanding, despite initiating the process well before the pause came into effect. Alicia Draus reports. – Nov 10, 2021

When Nova Scotia signed onto the federal government’s $10-a-day child care plan, it was touted as something that would make daycare more affordable and accessible, but some operators say it’s having the opposite effect.

“We have 23 families in our community that are in need of spaces in the next 12 months,” said Joe Kinsman, co-owner of Becky’s Daycare in Waverely.

“They’ve all committed to coming here and unfortunately we had to tell them we don’t have the space for them.”

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

Over the summer, Kinsman says his daycare underwent renovations to transform two rooms previously used for toddlers to be able to expand their infant program by eight spaces.

“We are constantly called by new and expecting parents that are looking for infant spaces, and a lot of daycares don’t offer infant spaces,” said Kinsman.

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He says they had also previously been encouraged by their licensing officer to focus more on younger age groups.

“I think that’s a department-wide suggestion to focus on younger ages where all the four-year-olds are now in preprimary,” said Kinsman.

“We made our program consultant aware in May that we were planning on doing this and for all intents and purposes had their go-ahead to do so.”

By September the daycare had everything ready to go and formally submitted their application. A month later, in early October they received word it was denied.

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Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Becky Druhan said she was unable to speak about specific cases but that in October the government implemented a pause on granting new licences or licence changes for for-profit daycares.

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“What we’re doing is preparing and taking the first steps towards the universal child care – the Canada Wide Child Care Agreement – so that’s a piece of that work,” she said.

READ MORE: Trudeau government, N.S. announce $10-per-day childcare for province by 2026

The Minister also said that she was not aware of any processes led by the department that were in planning and that they take licensing seriously.

“There are no licences that are issued until that work is complete, and they’re not done verbally, they’re not done informally, there’s a very specific process.”

According to Kinsman, their application was denied on Oct. 7, a week before the province formally announced the pause.

“We let them know in May what we were doing … we were ready to submit our paperwork for approval (at) the beginning of September,” said Kinsman.

“We applied for this before they officially announced there was a freeze on all spaces for private daycare.”

Families left without child care spaces

Twenty-three families had signed up to take advantage over the next 12 months of the eight new spaces that were supposed to be created. When the licence was denied, Kinsman’s staff had to inform those families there weren’t any spots for them.

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Lucas Nobre and his wife had registered their 10-month-old son who was supposed to start in October, and now the family says they’re in a difficult situation with maternity leave almost up.

“Starting in November she’s on unpaid leave until we can secure him a spot and she can go back to work,” said Nobre. “It’s quite stressful.”

Read more: Childcare provider optimistic New Brunswick will eventually sign onto cheaper daycare plan

The couple says it’s hard to find child care, especially somewhere the parents can feel comfortable leaving their child. They had that with Becky’s but say they’re now starting over and most places are booked.

“The only (open spaces) we could find, (are for) late April, early summer, late spring. That’s all we can find so far.”

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When asked about challenges finding spaces, Druhan says there are enough child care spaces in the province.

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“If folks have concerns we’ll work with each family who needs placement,” the minister said. “We are able to provide options for folks who are looking for child care.”

Nobre says he’s already tried.

“We sent emails and called. So far, nothing,” he said.

Not for profit transition not viable for all daycare operators

In a notice sent out to child care operators in October, the province says that as part of the Canada-Wide Early Learning Child Care Agreement that was signed in July, Nova Scotia will be prioritizing the creation and operation of new spaces in the not-for-profit and publicly funded child-care sector.

Kinsman says when their application was denied they were told the only way to have it approved was to switch to a non-profit model, something he says simply isn’t viable.

“The biggest reason is we have a two-year-old loan at the bank for a significant amount of money that we can’t just pretend isn’t there anymore,” said Kinsman.

“This is our livelihood, this is our retirement and this is our business.”

Read more: Staffing shortages at Kelowna daycares leaves 24 families without child care

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Kinsman and his wife purchased the daycare centre in 2019, well before the federal government introduced its plan to provide $10-a-day daycare. Since the announcement was made in July, Kinsman says there’s been lots of confusion.

“The agreement has very little framework and very little structure, it is essentially being left up to the provinces,” he said.

Kinsman says they’ve reached out to the premier as well as the early childhood development officer to speak with them about their concerns but says they’ve received no responses.

“It’s beyond frustrating,  the fact that nobody with the ability to make an exception or make a change is willing to talk to us about it.”

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