Sarah Hunter and her family have been operating daycares for over 35 years in Calgary. She has spent countless hours as a playmate, chef, janitor and counsellor for hundreds of children. But it’s the work behind the desk that’s now grinding her down.
“I actually, for the first time, had to hire somebody to help me with the administration of this affordability grant. It takes hours per month for us to submit the information to the government that they require,” said Hunter, the owner of The Imagination Tree.
As part of the Alberta-Canada Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, operators are required to provide audits, costing upwards of $30,000 a year.
Cost controls also limit daycare providers’ ability to raise fees more than three per cent per year. In the last two years, Hunter suggests her costs have climbed about 20 per cent.
“If we were able to raise our fees to at least meet inflation, then we’d have a fighting chance,” said Hunter. “But not being able to do that makes things very, very difficult.”
Hunter is now joining a group of private operators lobbying the government to not only remove cost controls, but to provide funding directly to parents, reducing the administrative burden on daycare providers.
“We’re bound to this agreement that caps our fees, restricts our expansion. It’s essentially expropriated our businesses,” said Krystal Churcher, Association of Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs.
The Imagination Tree isn’t at capacity, but its waitlist is over 100 people long as it continues to wait for provincial approval for expansion.
For now, parents are helping to keep the facility afloat.
“They have been bringing groceries in… they volunteer their time, they’ve volunteered arts and crafts supplies,” said Hunter. “So, all those things to help us keep a quality centre even though the money isn’t really there.”
The Ministry of Children’s Services provided a statement to Global News that said it has implemented several affordability measures to support child care operators.
“For immediate relief, the Government of Alberta provided $32.8 million through a one-time payment to eligible licensed child care operators.
“Funding equal to about a three per cent fee increase was also provided by Children’s Services in January 2023 to programs that agreed not to raise parent fees between January and March 2023. To date in 2023, operators that were provided with government funding in lieu of increasing parent fees have received the equivalent of a six per cent fee increase.”
An updated agreement is expected to be rolled out by the end of the year.
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