ATHABASCA/WESTLOCK — Parents and caregivers can soon expect some relief for their child care bills after last week's announcement the national $10/day daycare program is coming to Alberta.
Local providers were ecstatic to learn of the announcement Nov. 15, but don't have a lot of information to work with yet as to what to expect and when, but do know parts will start as of Jan. 1 and there will be tiered subsidy based on family income.
Kristy Sliwkanich, the executive director of the Whispering Hills Daycare in Athabasca, said the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Alberta (AECEA) has been keeping track of the announcement and have all the information on their website.
“If you scroll down a little bit on the left-hand side, it says, ‘Latest News,’” Sliwkanich said. “There's the federal-provincial childcare agreement and what we know so far, so it does go into a little bit of detail of what we know there. We are awaiting information.”
The program will only apply to licensed facilities, dayhomes run by a licensed family dayhome agency, and licensed group family childcare programs. It is expected to create a minimum of 42,500 new spaces specific to non-profit and dayhome spaces over five years; create 1,000 for-profit spaces the first year with 12,000 mainly non-profit spaces in 2021; and decrease childcare deserts — places without any form of day home or daycare.
“Families (currently) need to have an income threshold of $90,000 per year, and they're going to raise that threshold,” she said. “So, there's going to be more families who qualify for childcare subsidies.”
And in that there will be a scale on what the families pay. Families earning up to $120,000 per year will average $10 per day, $120,000 to $180,000 will average between $11 and $17 per day and families earning over $180,000 pay an average of $22 per day.
“I know programs are apprehensive of how it's going to affect the workforce,” said Sliwkanich. "Wages are already quite low and in many places are not livable wages for early childhood educators. So, we're hoping that we can support the workforce, while still supporting families with this.”
In childcare, if a program is licensed, the daycare can receive up to $6.62 per hour to top-up wages, depending on education level – a 50-hour course is considered a Level 1, a one-year certificate Level 2, and a two-year diploma Level 3.
“There's a little bit of funding for professional learning for educators,” said Westlock Daycare Society executive director Christine Villeneuve. “But it sounded like during the town hall meeting that we had, that there was going to be a wage grid. So there's not too much information about what that wage grid looks like based on what Minister (of Children's Services, Rebecca) Schulz had said was it would be minimum wage plus the current top up dollars.”
But where does that leave programmers though, Villeneuve wondered, because if there are no staff, there can’t be more spaces.
“If you've been here 20 years, I don't expect somebody to make minimum wage plus $6.62,” she said. “It sounds like that's what (Minister Schulz) wants to do. I don't have any document (but) this is what was said during the town hall meeting. However, she was very receptive to hear some feedback from educators.”
And the top-up money is only while actually working with children. If staff, even Villeneuve or Sliwkanich, are doing something related but not directly with children, those minutes or hours don’t count.
“If you're not valuing educators, the work they are putting into it, people are not going to come back, and people aren't going to go to school to become educators,” said Villeneuve. “A two-year diploma to make minimum wage plus $6?”
Villeneuve also doesn’t know the finer details of the agreement, what will be rolled out when, or even when a signed agreement will be in place.
“How should I say this? They’re planning on reducing fees by up to 50 per cent in January, but I don’t know what that looks like, and I don’t have an agreement from the (provincial) government to sign. I have nothing,” she said. “Nothing.”
For non-licensed dayhomes, the opportunity is also there to qualify for this money too, both for education and the wage top-up, Villeneuve said.
Villeneuve said she has available dayhome spaces in Athabasca, Lac La Biche, Boyle, Swan Hills, Onoway and every community in between and would happily help anyone wanting to have their dayhome qualify to offer the subsidy.
“I just have faith in my agency that I can help people,” she said. “And I want to do that, I really do. If there are people who are interested in learning more, give me a call.”
For Sliwkanich, they are also looking forward to helping even more children.
“We at Whispering Hills Daycare are very happy about the news and we're excited to find out more about how we can support families in our community,” she said.