Questions, concerns voiced over new daycare subsidies

Aldergrove daycare providers waiting to hear whether their applications will be accepted

A majority of daycare providers are applying to opt in to the new provincial child-care fee reduction initiative to reduce child-care fees for parents, said Katrina Chen, Minister of State for Child Care.

“We’re encouraged by the operators throughout the province who have signed on to reduce fees for parents,” said Chen.

“We’re continuing to work directly with child-care providers to answer questions and get them signed up, so even more families will receive these savings.”

Families accessing care at child-care centres that have been approved for the fee-reduction initiative will be eligible for savings starting in April 2018. To date, 61 per cent of providers have returned contracts before the deadline of April 20, and 86 per cent of those providers are opting in. Operators who choose not to opt in for April remain eligible to do so at any time in the future.

However, some licenced daycare providers in Aldergrove are still on tenterhooks as they have not received confirmation from the ministry as to whether their applications will be accepted.

One of the sticking points is that increases to fees charged to families by providers must be assessed by the ministry as to whether the fees have been “historically” acceptable. Some daycare operators have expressed concerns that there are no clear rules about this and that interpretation of what is historically acceptable is up to the ministry’s discretion.

Presumably this is meant to ensure that families receive the full benefit of the daycare subsidy instead of it being swallowed whole by the daycares if the daycares simply increase their fees to match the new subsidies.

However, there is also a wide range of fees charged by the individual daycares in the province, with some charging as much as $1,800 per month for infant care. Most of the daycares in Aldergrove charge much less than that for infant care, as little as $925 per month.

On the other hand, if daycares are not permitted to increase fees to cover the cost of inflation — for wage increases, employee benefits, hydro and rents — they will not be able to stay in business.

Yet the demand is growing as daycares all have waiting lists.

This is the double-edged sword facing daycare operators, who welcome the financial relief the subsidies will bring to families, especially low-income households.

Aldergrove families who currently pay $925 per month for infant care will save more than a third of that every month, $350 per month, which will be a significant sum for these families (it should be noted that existing subsidies for low income households tied with the new $350 subsidy will mean that some households will pay nothing for daycare). The subsidy will be $100 per month for children aged three to Kindergarten (five).

While this potentially benefits families the subsidies do nothing to address the larger issues of opening new childcare spaces and retaining staff in what is traditionally a low-paid job. Early Childhood Education grads typically start out at $13-$14 per hour; not much more than minimum wage.

Paula Wagner has worked in the field for 32 years and operated Starlight daycare in Aldergrove for the past ten years. She told The Star that “burnout rates (for workers) are high, it’s exhausting work, and there are more special needs kids with behavioral issues than before. Yet we can’t increase wages without increasing fees.”

Wagner says she has not heard whether Starlight’s planned increase of $30 per month will be permitted by the ministry even though it’s a modest 4.5 per cent increase and is needed to pay increased costs of wages, benefits, hydro, rent and supplies. Starlight’s last increase was $15 per month a year and a half ago.

“It’s a very confusing contract and we can’t get direct answers to our questions; we’re still waiting for their decision,” said Wagner.

Natasha Fehr has operated Aldergrove’s Beans N Buttons daycare for the past 12 years, and she says their recent fee increase of $75 per month was the first increase in nine years.

“We’re all in this for the families, and I’m hoping this all works out for the families, especially the low-income families who really need the help. For some it’s going to mean the difference between whether they buy groceries or pay for child care,” said Fehr, who says she’s remaining optimistic for the program’s success.

“I wish all the questions and concerns could have been addressed first, but I think this new program is just the first step and all the concerns will be looked after.”

Lorraine Lively of the Kamloops Christian School Early Learning Centre says, “From my understanding, this is just step one of a three-year plan, and I believe there is an even longer-term plan. We know there are some issues with wages and education and staffing, but I believe the government has made it clear that there are more initiatives coming out. It looks to me like the government is very well aware of the issues in this area, but it can’t be done all in one step.”

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