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N.S. private childcare centres battle ‘staffing crisis’ as wage deal deadline looms

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Private childcare centres battle ‘major staffing crisis’ in Nova Scotia
The Nova Scotia government recently announced a wage hike for early childhood educators. As the deadline approaches for operators to sign on to the deal, concerns are growing from within the childcare sector. A spokesperson for private centres says they want to sign on to get their staff the increases, but that operations funding could be jeopardized. Callum Smith explains. – Oct 28, 2022

Despite the Nova Scotia government offering wage increases for early childhood educators (ECEs), the province was met with criticism at the legislature Friday. Opposition parties, a private daycare operator, and a group representing ECEs all took aim at the Houston government.

Earlier this month, Education and Early Childhood Development Minister announced $100-million annually to bump up the salary of ECEs, seeing the wage floor retroactively increase to between $19.10 to $21.67 per hour.

But Lisa Beddow, who owns six daycares offering 423 spaces, says more money is needed to help address the major challenges within the sector.

“We’re looking to be able to be able to increase our rates or be provided some additional operational funding to be able to sustain our costs,” she told reporters. “With food and fuel, and now wage increases, there is additional burdens onto us.

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Becky Druhan, the province’s education and early childhood development minister, says the wage increases are part of a ‘historic transformation’ for the childcare sector. Callum Smith / Global News

“Costs continually go up and up and up, and we’re just not able to sustain it,” she explains.

She says around 10 private daycares have closed in the past year, but predicts that number will rise.

“We have done a poll with our private operators and we are close to the 25 per cent range of ‘looking to close within the next 12 months.'”

She says her group consists of 196 private operators. Beddow says while some ECEs were quite pleased with the pay raise, it poses operational funding challenges.

“The new agreement limits the number of hours that we can claim for our early childhood educators in our classrooms,” she says. “For example, previously, we would have had funding for additional support staff for toilet training, for example, [and for] children with special needs. That is now limited by the number of hours in a day that we can have our educators in the classroom.”
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But operators were only given 30 days to sign onto the agreement, with a Nov. 14 deadline. Beddow says that doesn’t give enough time to properly review the plan to see if it makes financial sense.

‘Historic transformation’

The province’s education minister defended the government’s $100-million investment for the wage increases.

“This is a historic transformation,” says Becky Druhan, the minister of education and early childhood development. “It’s a five-year transformation in a sector that’s been under-serviced and neglected for decades.”

In response to Opposition concerns during question period, Druhan shared a letter from another daycare operator who was very grateful for wage increases.

But Nikki Jamieson, the coordinator of Child Care Now Nova Scotia which represents ECEs, says many won’t be making a living wage despite the increases.

“We’re having a major staffing crisis in this province and the fact that the government promised a minimum living wage in the [federal-provincial child care agreement] that’s directly written into the agreement and failed to deliver on that promise should be top of mind,” Jamieson says.
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Nikki Jamieson, the coordinator of Child Care Now Nova Scotia which represents ECEs, says many won’t be making a living wage despite the increases. Callum Smith / Global News

Druhan says the province will come out with retirement benefits for ECEs and that their wages will be tied to public sector increases next year.

Nova Scotia has pledged to create 9,500 new early learning and child-care spaces by 2026, with 1,500 of those new seats in place by the end of this year. Those promises are tied to its $605-million deal with the federal government to create $10-a-day child-care spaces.

But Opposition party leaders say the government is dropping the ball.

“We were promised expansion and we’re seeing contraction,” says NDP Leader Claudia Chender. “And we’re not just seeing contraction among the private operators, we’re seeing contraction among the public operators.”

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“The big stress on the private sector right now is that they’ve been asked to sign an agreement that is going to overturn their business model, turn them from profit to not-for-profit, where they’re not even in control of their operations anymore, potentially,” says Liberal Leader Zach Churchill.

But the pressure isn’t just mounting on the financial side for daycares, it’s also a big stresser for parents.

“We’re flooded with hundreds of calls weekly from families that do not have care,” Beddow says.

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