Blog | February 23, 2011

This article was originally published in the Calgary Herald on February 22, 2011

PIA continues to advocate for quality, affordable childcare in our province. The article below, published in the Calgary Herald, covers a government announcement on ending a program that created new childcare spaces. PIA is putting that announcement in context, wary of the false impression it gives that Alberta has enough childcare spaces and that there are no waiting lists.

Province ends day-care expansion plan after reaching goal

By Eva Ferguson, Calgary Herald, February 22, 2011

CALGARY—A provincial government program creating more than 18,000 new child care spaces across Alberta has ended, sparking fear among some day-care advocates that too many centres are still struggling with long waiting lists.  The Creating Child Care Choices plan provided $250 million over the last three years, allowing operators to increase child care space, fund building expansions and hire additional staff.

But now that the original goal of creating some 14,000 spaces has been exceeded, Yvonne Fritz, minister of children and youth services, says the department's focus will shift to maintaining the more than 90,000 child care spaces that now exist."Now that we've accomplished what we set out to do, we have to sustain it," said Fritz, explaining that that means continued funding to help day cares with subsidies, staffing and operating costs.

With the provincial Conservatives set to unveil the Alberta budget on Thursday, Fritz said she couldn't detail how much would be spent over the next year to sustain the new spaces.But child care advocates with Public Interest Alberta say after last year's $7.5-million budget cut to children's services, day-care centres with waiting lists won't get much more help.

"Call any good child care centre and they have huge waiting lists, because of underfunding of child care," said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director.  "And as the province prepares for the budget, they'll be looking for further cuts."  Tanya Szarko, executive director with the Bow Valley Child Care Centre in downtown Calgary, said her centre does have a waiting list for infant care.But she added that government funding was able to allow Bow Valley to add 14 new spaces over the last year, reconfiguring rooms and adding more equipment.

Szarko said that instead of funding more new spaces, the province should put more resources to revisiting the accreditation process, ensuring high-quality centres are approved with educated staff and high-end facilities.Bow Valley, for instance, renews its accreditation every three years with a site visit they can plan for.  The province should instead offer more surprise visits, and more stringent standards to ensure higher quality care at all centres. 

"There's always a waiting list at high-quality child care centres," Szarko said. "There's usually a difference between high quality and low quality, but it can be delicate."Boston Lee-Wing, owner of two Cancare Childcare Centres in northwest Calgary, said he, too, was able to create new spaces, a total of 18 in the last two years, thanks to the provincial program.

His waiting lists often fluctuate, he said, explaining that right now he is only 80 per cent full at his Scenic Acres and Arbour Lake centres.  He agreed that the province may not need to fund new spaces for a few years.  But Moore-Kilgannon said Alberta is experiencing a baby boom, and continues to grow at a fast pace.

"Has the government done a detailed review of the increasing demand for spaces and looked at which communities need additional quality child care spaces?"  Fritz said the province does continue to monitor community needs, keeping in contact with day care operators, schools, community associations and municipalities throughout Alberta.  "We'll continue to support day-care operators with wage top-ups, subsidies to help low-income families and we'll work closely with them to monitor demand."

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