Minister of Children’s Services Danielle Larivee made a Cochrane stop to meet with members of the early childhood education community to get an idea of community needs when it comes to childcare.
Joined by Banff-Cochrane NDP MLA Cam Westhead, Larivee discussed the possible expansion of the province’s Early Learning and Child Care pilot program at the ParentLink Centre last week.
The $25 per day universal childcare pilot was launched in May at 22 centres across the province, including the Banff Child Care Centre.
The universal aspect means that the program is not income-based but on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“It’s a definite need … there’s currently a gap in quality childcare services” said Laurie Bourdage, ParentLink Centre co-ordinator with Cochrane Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).
Bourdage explained that the prospect of universal access to extended hours and even weekend childcare would resonate well with many Cochrane families – particularly shift workers. As the curriculum comes out of MacEwan University, this would ensure the quality component is in place.
Bourdage said she hopes an announcement will soon be made that the pilot is expanding and that should a local daycare provider’s application prove successful perhaps a Cochrane provider could make the next list of approved facilities to received funding.
“No matter what your income is, we all struggle with childcare and access to it,” said Westhead, adding that it’s also important to ensure those who work as early childhood education providers are paid well and are not regarded as “glorified babysitters.”
This week the Cochrane Eagle reached out to Cochrane moms through social media to gauge interest in access to universal child care.
This call was met with an overwhelming response from women indicating that they simply cannot afford to work due to the high costs of childcare. Many would welcome the balance offered by working part or full-time to staying at home with their children.
Carolyn Gittens, mother of four, is one of those women.
As a dental assistant, Gittens had to weigh out the costs of before and after school childcare due to the shifts she was required to work. The math didn’t make sense and the juggling around her shifts was not possible with her husband’s job.
“At the end of the day, I have gas money left or I end up working to pay for childcare.”
Alex Antinozzi has two children, ages five and 10. For more than 20 years she has worked as an early childhood educator, having worked as a preschool supervisor and implementing music programs into centres. She currently works at a daycare in town.
Antinozzi also lived in Quebec when the province had its universal childcare program of around $7 per day in effect; the program has since been altered where the cost can reach up to $20 per day, depending on family income.
In her opinion, the efficacy of a universal childcare program is dependent on the province’s ability to strike a balance between ensuring educated staff is paid well and that affordable childcare is offered.
Westhead said he and the minister also visited Banff that day and received favourable feedback that the program was meeting a need previously unfulfilled.
He said he is hopeful that following discussions between the ministry and federal government that the pilot will be expanded in the next couple of months to include more centres.
Larivee’s press secretary, Aaron Manton, explained that the $10-million funding for the pilot is over a three-year period.
The grants for each centre will be “rigorously evaluated each year” with the intention to “provide our government with the information we need to expand on these pilots to ensure all families in Alberta have access to high-quality, affordable child care.”
Manton said the ministry is continuing to engage with private sector day home providers to learn how they can continue to provide support to these providers and the families they serve.
The feds announced in June that they would invest $7.5 billion over 11 years in childcare, beginning with $500 million this year and increasing to $870 million each year in order to fund 40,000 new spaces over the next three years, with a focus on families with higher needs or low incomes. An ultimate vision of universal childcare program is a future possibility.