WESTLOCK – The Westlock Child Care Society is planning to potentially open next Tuesday.
Christine Villeneuve, the facility’s executive director, said the delay in receiving guidelines has left the centre with little time to implement the requirements, inform staff of changes and communicate with parents by May 14.
They received copies of the Phase 1 reopening guidelines May 8.
“We had our local health inspector in this morning and asked if what we were thinking matched what the guidelines were and she said “Yes, you’re ready to open,” but based on what our interpretations of the guidelines would look like for the centre,” said Villeneuve on Wednesday.
A survey was also sent today to registered parents, targeting essential workers and those who qualify under Phase 1 reopening.
“We want to start small. We don’t want to fill our spaces right away. What if something happens and we’re not prepared?” said Villeneuve.
The centre won’t accept kids younger than two-years-old.
Guidelines were late, says director
When the News initially reached out May 7, no guidelines had been released yet. With only a week left until the proposed reopening date, Villeneuve said it’s not enough time to set everything in place, especially when educators got little clarity on what programming might look like.
“How do you tell a two-year-old “No, you can’t come hug me?” The cognitive development isn’t there. We have questions that we’ve asked. It’s not only how do you keep children safe, but families have these same questions. My answer right now is “I don’t know” so how can I plan to open in a week?” she said.
At that time, she didn’t have any clarity from Children’s Services about how to proceed with reopening by the scheduled May 14 date.
As for educators within the building, their training, what their role looks like under a pandemic, and even their willingness to return to work, Villeneuve said there was also no answer.
“Based on the (Occupational Health and Safety) act, I have to provide due diligence for training, policy procedures, a really comprehensive health and safety policy and going over that with the educators before we reopen because there was a big change. This is not the way that we were operating before. When there’s very little guidance from the government to develop something like that … I can’t do that in a day.
“(Educators) have the right to refuse dangerous work and I let them know that because I need to. It’s the law,” said Villeneuve.
These policies would include questions educators have around the wearing of personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, cleaning and disinfecting policies, and especially the role an educator provider has in offering quality care.
“We offer quality care, but I’ve asked the government what does quality care now look like? Is it my educators just managing a room and making sure everybody stays two metres apart? Because we can’t provide the same service as before.”
Other educators across Alberta share Villeneuve’s concerns. The YMCA, Alberta’s largest childcare provider, released a set of questions and recommendations for the government May 5, detailing similar areas of uncertainty and offering solutions.
“Us, like every childcare across the province, we’re waiting and trying to work as closely as we can with the provincial government around what the recommendations, restrictions, guidelines are going to look like because I’m sure the local educators in Westlock are feeling that that’s going to have a big impact on what opening actually looks like and if it’s even viable,” said Michelle Hynes-Dawson, VP of communications with YMCA of Northern Alberta.
That document was also embraced by the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Alberta, who forwarded it to the minister May 7, in a letter containing an offer to help with system development.
The YMCA of Northern Alberta also declared none of its centres will open May 14.
Children’s Services did not respond to a May 7 request for comment but on Friday, the News obtained a copy of the guidelines for childcare centres.
The government, in collaboration with Alberta Health Services, expects Stage 1 to last at least two to three weeks. Daycares can open provided there have been no known outbreaks in the community.
“Programs will need to implement cleaning protocols, change program plans, and maintain a state of new normal prior to bringing up enrolment,” reads the document.
The same guidelines that applied to the limited number of childcare centres which opened mid-April for essential workers will apply to Stage 1 daycares beginning May 14.
No more than 10 people – including staff and children – can be in a room at one time. They count as a cohort and can’t interact with others in the space. In total, the daycare can’t have more than 30 people in the building.
Attendance has to be reported weekly to Children’s Services.
Parents must check the children’s temperature daily and daycare staff has to ensure there are posters to remind them.
Frequent handwashing is also required after every contact and cleaning. Kids have to come with meals and snacks – individually wrapped – from home and utensils must be used.
No mention is made of personal protective equipment.
No date has been set for Stage 2. At that time, daycares and out of school centres can work up to 75 per cent of their usual capacity.
This story was updated from the original version which appeared in print May 12. The News has since spoken with Christine Villeneuve, the Westlock Child Care Society executive director, who was able to provide a tentative opening date for the daycare. The original article, "Westlock daycare won't open May 14," was based on information obtained by May 8.
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