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Alberta must address shortage of preschool day care, advocacy group says

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Author: 
Pratt, Sheila
Publication Date: 
23 Dec 2012

 

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Alberta is falling behind in providing licensed day-care spaces for preschoolers, especially since the province cancelled expansion grants for child care centres two years ago, a local advocacy group says.

"The best way to expand day care spaces is to include them in new school construction," said Bill Moore Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta.

Premier Alison Redford promised to build 50 new schools and renovate another 70, so it "makes good sense" to include day-care facilities in those buildings to ensure fast growing suburbs can offer a range of programs, including preschool care and after-school care for young students, he said.

"We're in some kind of baby boom right now, but it's not matched by new spaces in child care," Moore-Kilgannon said. "No one has looked to see if we are getting ahead of the curve and we're not."

The number of working parents with preschoolers in licensed day care is dropping - to 37.9 per cent in 2010 from 40.9 per cent in 2004 - a clear signal supply is not keeping up with demand, Moore-Kilgannon said. Those figures include licensed day homes.

The province was making some progress with day-care spaces under a program that provided operators an "expansion grant" of $1,500 for every new spot.

By 2011, there were 18,000 new spaces but the vast majority were for after-school care, rather than spaces for infants and toddlers, Moore Kilgannon said.

The province cancelled the expansion grants in 2011, though it still receives the federal funding originally allocated for new day-care spaces. The money is now rolled into the federal social transfer payment and should be used create new spaces for preschoolers in the current school construction program, he said.

The shortage is severe for preschoolers, he said. Many parents are on multiple wait lists and still don't manage to find a space, meaning they end up making informal arrangements with no quality control.

The number of Alberta working parents with a preschooler and without licensed child care grew to 87,281 in 2010 from about 70,000 in 2004, according to Public Interest Alberta's figures.

Without any provincial policy to support expansion, the government is relying "on the market" and that just doesn't work, Moore-Kilgannon said.

"Premier Redford has talked about a five-year plan to end child poverty and we hope new day-care policy is connected to that," he said. "But given last week's budget announcement (about dropping government revenues) I'm worried that promise won't be fulfilled."

Earlier this year, the Redford government raised the income level to $50,000 (from $30,00) for families who qualify for some level of subsidy for day-care fees.

Human Services Minister Dave Hancock is expected to release his new social policy framework in early January. That document may address a new day-care policy.

Alberta provides a subsidy of about $341 per space to all operators, both for-profit and non-profit. That ranks the province in the middle of the pack among seven provinces that provide subsidies in $300-$400 range. Quebec is the outlier with a subsidy of $1,969.

About half the day-care centres in Alberta are private, for-proft operations, though most are small mom-and-pop centres.

The major exception is Calgary-based Edleun, which is growing rapidly across the country and is currently the only child care company on the Canadian stock market. It received $12.1 million in government subsidies between April 2010 and December 2011, according to documents.

After an initial purchase of 11 centres in Calgary and Edmonton, Edleun now owns and has deals pending on more than 50 centres in Alberta, B.C. and Ontario, according to public documents.

So far, only two centres in Alberta are new buildings, both in the Calgary area.

Despite ambitious acquisition and expansion plans, Edleun did not turn a profit in 2012, the firm's September financial statement said.

The arrival of publicly traded, corporate day care has its critics, who worry the business is not viable and relies too heavily on government subsidies. Moore-Kilgannon said corporate day care will go to new suburbs, where it can charge higher rates, but not to older communities, inner cities or rural areas.

Toronto expert Martha Friendly said she is also worried about the rise of corporate day care.

"The share of for-profit day care across the country has gone up steeply since 2004," she said, noting that Newfoundland is now entirely served by private day care.

But studies repeatedly show the quality of care in for-profit centres is not as high as in non-profits, she said.

-reprinted from the Edmonton Journal

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Entered Date: 
26 Dec 2012
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