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Concerns raised over new provincial child-care program

Group daycares in Terrace say the province’s current plan leaves out early childhood educators

The NDP’s $1-billion investment in B.C. childcare, along with the new rollout of various subsidy programs for families, is leaving some early childhood educators in Terrace concerned about how they will afford future operating costs.

The budget created two new subsidies for parents, one aimed at lowering fees at licensed child care facilities, and the other written as a benefit for families.

Starting April 1 under the new initiative, providers can opt-in to receive extra funding to reduce parent fees by up to $350 per month for group infant and toddler care, $200 a month for family infant and toddler care and $100 per month for group care for children between the ages of three and five.

Then in September 2018, the income threshold increases for the infant toddler program to $74,000 for free childcare based on the provincial median.

Families with a combined income up to $110,000 are eligible.

By the end of 2020, this benefit will be extended to programs for children aged three to five.

However, the announcement has daycares in Terrace scrambling to make sense of what the program means for them.

“It’s super confusing, with many unanswered questions at this point,” said Jennifer Maillet, owner of Willow Creek Daycare.

Maillet said she first heard about the program from news reports and received many calls from perplexed parents. With minimal information available, she went to the provincial government website, printed out their FAQ page, and called for a parent meeting on March 9.

“I thought, I’m just going to be black and white and show you guys everything,” she said to parents at the REM Lee Theatre.

On Monday, Maillet said she will sign contracts to opt-in for the $350 subsidy offered per month for families with infants or toddlers in daycare, and the $100 per month subsidy offered to parents with kids aged three to five in group care.

The facility also announced it will be increasing the rate for their toddler and infant care programs to $1,000 per month, but with the additional government subsidy the cost would come back down to $650 per month for parents. Maillet said that “the increase was preplanned and based on increase in minimum wage and economic inflation.” She adds, “the price of everything raising was inevitable.”

However, the quick rollout and lack of information makes Maillet feel uneasy about the program, she said.

“Right now there are so many unknown factors across the province that it makes me feel nervous that this happened so quickly. We should be getting more information this week, but they haven’t fine-tuned it yet.”

The incremental minimum wage - currently at $11.35 - will rise to $12.65 on June 1. This, along with the NDP’s payroll tax rollout on Jan. 1, will make the financial situation difficult for Willow Creek to budget for more staff or resources this year without any additional help, Maillet said.

“This means my EC assistants who are making $14 an hour are asking for a raise, or saying they have to move on because they can make more money waitressing,” she said. Right now, childhood educators at Willow Creek make between $12 to $23 an hour depending if they are assistants or fully licensed educators.

The provincial government did announce they will be giving daycare facilities a 10 per cent lift in the base Child Care Operating Funding (CCOF) rate to help cover operational costs. But for Willow Creek, this increase only amounts to $0.12 - $1.25 of additional funding per day per child.

Childcare in Terrace also costs less than the median price range for the province, which is $1,250 per month according to documents provided on the provincial government site.

“Last Friday I received a notice from the provincial government saying that if the daycare increased their fees, they wouldn’t be eligible for this new money unless we have permission,” Maillet said. “And they haven’t really outlined the details needed to give us that permission, even though our costs are going up.”

Because of this and the struggle to retain staff, Willow Creek Childcare is uncertain how to fill spaces at the centre. There are 14 families currently on the toddler waitlist as of Friday.

Paces, a non-profit childcare facility in Terrace, said that while they are licensed to take 24 children over three years old, they currently have only enough staff to take eight children.

“We’re a total of seven full-time staff and a whole bunch of part-time, and a lot of them are moms who work while their children are in school,” Nancy Dumais, the manager at Paces, said over the phone. “It’s just not worth it for them.”

Dumais said the reason why the facility is at max-capacity isn’t due to a lack of space but a lack of staff, despite the provincial government’s three-year plan to build 24,000 new licensed child care spaces.

She said she has seen new employees get snatched up by higher paying providers five or six times in the last six months. Meanwhile, 30 families were added to the facility’s wait list over the last four weeks.

“It’s sad because I have the space to take eight more toddlers and 16 more children between the ages of three and five if I had just three more people on staff,” she said. “But you can’t live off of $15 to $17 an hour with this as your primary job.”

Emily Mlieczko from Early Childhood Educators of BC (ECEBC) said that while the new NDP Child Care BC plan is the ‘biggest commitment to childcare ever’ in the province, B.C. is losing early childhood educators because more people are choosing not to enter the profession. The median wage for early childhood educators in B.C. is 19 per cent lower than workers in the province make overall.

“Often, educators don’t have access to extended benefits,” she said. “When I lived in Prince Rupert with my sons, daycare costs were the same amount as the cost of my rent per month, and I made $14.50 an hour. I had to start deciding what bills I could wait on for that month, and which I couldn’t.”

In the meantime, Mlieczko said she will be following the government’s actions and announcements on childcare closely.

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