Peace River’s only daycare is preparing for a possible increase in fees next spring now that a popular $25 per day childcare pilot program is under review by the new UCP government.
A childcare centre in Camrose that is part of the pilot already made headlines after it sent a letter to parents warning them that it doesn’t expect the program to continue.
Sugar Plum Tree Day Care Centre, managed by the Peace River Child Care Association (PRCCA), was one of the first childcare centres in the province to benefit from provincial grant funding under the former NDP government, and is also preparing for that program to end.
“PRCCA (Sugar Plum Tree) is part of Phase 1 that consists of the initial 23 childcare centres that are provincially funded. Our contract ends March 31, 2020,” explains PRCCA treasurer Sidney George.
Phase two included 77 additional childcare centres. Phase two started a year after phase one, meaning later participants in the pilot such as a childcare centre in Slave Lake may be able to finish out the pilot in 2021.
However, with no firm commitment from the provincial government, the future of the grant remains in limbo.
“We have seen no indication from the government that they’ll be extending the contract,” says George. “We have reached out even prior to the election to our MLA Dan Williams and to Premier Jason Kenney. Although at the time Mr. Williams seemed interested in learning more after an initial visit we didn’t hear back.”
Rebecca Schulz, Alberta’s Minister of Children’s Services, has told the Globe and Mail that Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government is reviewing the program. The UCP has also said that they support a parent’s right to choose their childcare.
George says PRCCA still hopes to hear something definitive from the provincial government, but since contract negotiations typically aren’t until January and there will be no budget released provincially until November, the association needs time to give notice to let parents know that their fees may be increasing in April.
“We are currently working on our policies. Within our policies is our fee schedule. The board will be approving these policies in August and they will be effective September 1st. This does not mean that September 1st our parents will be paying more but that they’ll be fully informed of what their fees will be,” George says.
Sugar Plum Tree currently charges $550 a month for a full time child of any age. If the pilot program is not renewed, those fees will likely go up to between $1,100 to $1,200 a month next April depending on the age of the child in care.
While no formal consultation process has been announced, the PRCCA reports quarterly to the government on the grant. Those reports include financial information on how much of the grant is being used in four different areas, Affordability, Access, Quality and Training, and Improvements, as well as how the childcare association is meeting its stated goals.
George says the grant has allowed 100 Peace River families to access childcare.
“This grant has been amazing for our centre! It has given us funding for more educators, more training, more meetings with other centres working with this grant,” she says.
“We are able to serve more families. Prior to the grant we were not at capacity, which for a non-profit means cutting back on staff and training. When we initially got the grant we were able to not only reach capacity but now we are full, we have a full staff of 25-30 employees and a waitlist of over 160 children (aka we could fill another entire centre),” says George.
George says the lower price of fees led to the creation of the extensive waitlist of Peace River families hoping to access daycare.
“Prior to the grant when we had full fees we were at approximately 65% capacity. If we went back down to that capacity we cannot guarantee that we could stay open and offer the level of care we are right now. We would have to make significant cuts so that we could afford our bills,” she says.
George also points to other benefits Sugar Plum Tree saw from the $25 a day program.
“This grant encourages parent and community involvement so we do special events for families and bring in other community groups such as Parent Link, Inclusive, and Families First. We have been introduced to amazing resources like Donna Adams with Children Ventures who works with childcare centres to keep them sustainable and train employees and boards,” she says.
George is also frustrated by some of the misinformation she says she sees in social media discussions of the grant.
“Most people seem to believe that this is a subsidy. It is not,” she says.
“Every parent regardless of income or circumstance gets the $25 per day. With that extra money in their pockets parents are able to put their kids in hockey and dance or spend it at a local retailer. It’s boosting our local economy. By being ‘for everyone’ we encourage families to prosper and succeed without saying ‘well now you’re too rich,” she explains.
“An example I often use is a single mother of 3, she is on subsidy (which is based on income) and she is given a promotion. Well that promotion puts her over the subsidy cap so should she say no to the promotion or be unable to afford childcare?”
George says parents who have benefited from the grant may want to contact their local MLA or the Minister to give their feedback now that the pilot is under review by the provincial government