Blog | November 20, 2014

Stress of long delays increases in families with special-needs children

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON—Karolyn Slowsky has panic attacks at work because she is so worried about day care for her nine-year-old son, Mackenzie.The crippling stress of finding someone to look after her sweet boy with high-functioning autism has forced the 41-year-old single mom onto anti-depressants. For months at a time she has had to rely on her mother, who is in her 60s.Even when she does have care, the overflowing anxiety has very nearly gotten her fired.“There’s always that fear that it may not last, that I may have to start searching again,” Slowsky said.“It’s hard even to explain how difficult finding day care is for any parent, let alone a single parent with a child that has a disability,” she said. “That quadruples the stress, but it’s really hard for so many parents.”A new study of 200 Alberta daycares from Public Interest Alberta found two out of every three has a waiting list. One-third will not provide care for infants, and 62 per cent will not care for children with complex needs, like Mackenzie.PIA Executive Director Bill Moore-Kilgannon said day cares with waiting lists can have more than 300 children on those lists, with parents waiting years to get a space in their chosen facility.“Alberta is amongst the lowest spenders, just behind Saskatchewan, in terms of how much we spend (on child care) relative to our GDP,” Moore-Kilgannon said. “Because of that, we have the lowest number of women in the workforce, compared to the rest of the country, particularly for children under the age of two. … This is a gender-equity issue.”The study also shows 70 per cent of low-income families are paying more than $200 in addition to government subsidies, and the vast majority of care facility owners (82 per cent) say subsidy rates aren’t sufficient to support affordable, quality care.Moore-Kilgannon said as a result, low-income families “scramble from one solution to another.“So many people are in a situation where because they can’t afford or can’t access quality care, they end up in unlicensed, unregulated care — and that should be a worry for everybody,” Moore-Kilgannon said.Finding quality day care is not just a problem for low-income families, or children with disabilities. Marilyn Gray just moved to Edmonton and had to try 15 facilities before she found space for her four-year-old daughter — and even then, it was pure luck.“There was a period where we were looking at day homes we weren’t comfortable with,” Gray said. “I was at my wits’ end. We were seriously thinking we would have to drive out to St. Albert.“You can’t un-have your children, and they have to be fed, so you have to go to work,” she said. “I pity anybody who is doing this right now. It’s crazy.”Barb Reed works with the advocacy group GRIT, Getting Ready for Inclusion Today, and said families with children who have disabilities “go door-to-door,” often finding a space only to have the child kicked out when it becomes apparent there are not enough supports.“Let’s stop expelling three- and four-year-olds (from day care) because the adults don’t know what to do,” she said.Premier Jim Prentice said he has asked Human Services Minister Heather Klimchuk to look into child-care solutions — it is in her mandate letter — but there is no deadline for her to report back to Albertans on the issue.“I’m very concerned about it. I met with parent groups over the summer and heard their concerns,” Prentice said. “It’s not clear to me exactly what the solutions are.”NDP leader Rachel Notley said Alberta needs a strong, publicly funded and publicly delivered child-care system that is prohibited from discriminating against kids and their families based on age or disability.“The lack of spaces for infants and for special-needs kids is what happens when you leave it entirely to the private sector to provide a service that is crucial to community health,” she said.“This is what happens when you’ve got a 43-year-old government run by a bunch of grumpy old guys who don’t understand the modern-day realities and needs of Alberta’s young families.”kkleiss@edmontonjournal.comtwitter.com/ablegreporter© Copyright (c) The Edmonton JournalRead the article on the Edmonton Journal website