What was touted as a “great” deal for child care in Canada has turned out to be “not so great,” according to some centre operators and parents in Alberta.
“We wept when we received that news,” he told Global News.
But those happy tears, he said, soon turned to frustration when he learned the deal focused on not-for-profit centres — not private ones like his. Funding for the for-profit sector was eventually worked out at the government level, but not to the same extent.
For Little Worlds, this has resulted in 21 of its 102 spaces not being funded.
“We were told, ‘You can run them, but you’re not going to receive any help from the government,'” managing director and facility founder Alba Clavijo said.
“What’s happened is there is now a two-tier system in Alberta,” Dawson-North added.
“How does it make sense that one child sitting in a classroom beside another child, where one family is receiving the beautiful gift of full financial benefit, and the other family receives nothing. How is that right? It’s not right.”
Krystal Churcher with Early Start Learning Centre in Fort McMurray has heard this from a lot of private operators. It was one of the main reasons she decided not to open a new centre in Calgary.
Another reason is licensing requirements. Under the agreement, centres had to be fully licensed before November 2021 in order to get any of the funding. Even those who wanted to expand existing facilities had to meet that deadline.
“Our centres are sort of at a standstill,” Churcher said. “We can’t open new centres and we’re not able to expand our current ones.”
These centres also can’t access wage top-ups for staff, leaving them at a disadvantage in Alberta’s tough and competitive labour market.
“Retaining staff when you can’t increase wages in your centre is really difficult,” she added.
Churcher said the bilateral agreement wasn’t properly thought out in Alberta, where most of the sector is private. According to her statistics, 675 child care centres — or 120,000 child care spaces — are private.
“So centres are stuck charging full rates and hoping that families are willing to pay it. We’re just stalling and creating these massive wait lists.”
Calgary dad Andrew De Angelis is on one of those wait lists, even though he signed up his son for child care months ago.
“We started putting him on the waiting list before he was even born,” he said.
He too doesn’t understand the funding formula and is frustrated by the uneven playing field.
“Why should we pay more than somebody else that’s sitting in the same room at the same school?” he asked.
Another growing concern in the industry is sustainability. Private child care advocates told Global News these restrictions will result in centres closing down, or simply not starting up.
“I think you’re going to see less small businesses, less people like myself, opening up centres because the risk is huge,” Churcher explained.
It’s a risk Hend Ali, who operates Future Kids Daycare & After School in Edmonton, wishes she hadn’t taken. She started planning her centre back in 2020, taking out a loan and a lease for 22 years. However, her centre was only licensed at the very end of the year, making her ineligible for any of the new funding.
“All the daycares around me, all their spaces are full. We have the space. We have the materials. We have everything set up, but no children. I lost sleep, like what am I going to do?” she asked.
“I had to tell my four young children that there’s a big possibility we’re going to lose our home because I put it as collateral for this location.”
Like many for-profit operators, Ali said she has been offering discounts to parents. But it’s at a cost she said she simply can’t afford long-term and push may come to shove.
“They’re simply pressuring us to switch to a not-for-profit because who wants to go bankrupt after all of this hard work?”
Other operators added it’s not just them who will lose out — fewer centres also mean fewer choices.
“You’re going to lose options as parents,” Churcher said. “There will be less diverse programs in your communities, there will be less specialty programs.”
“Our new generation is not going to have choices,” Clavijo pointed out. “I believe what is right is for the parents to choose what is the best for the children.”
Global News reached out to both the federal and provincial governments for answers to these questions and concerns.
A federal spokesperson told Global News “prioritizing not-for-profit and licensed delivery ensures the sound and reasonable use of public funds, while ensuring the quality of care meets the standards set out by provinces and territories.”
The Alberta government told Global News it “fought hard to make sure private operators were included.”
It added as a result, it was able to allocate an extra 2,700 private spaces to new private programs ready to open in the spring of this year.
Both governments told Global News they’re currently working on establishing “a cost control framework” to ensure any extra “public funded” money earned by for-profit centres goes directly to improving services. That’s expected to be implemented in early 2023 and should allow for new private spaces to be created and funded.
As for the money left on the table right now, the province added it will be allocated for future programs.
The concern for private child care advocates is it may be too late.
“The children are the ones who are going to lose out here,” Dawson-North said.
Meantime, a petition to change the rules and restrictions before that happens has been launched by the Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs.