Private childcare operators are pleased with a provincial government announcement this week to give more cash to private operators to create more spaces across the province. 

On Tuesday, the Alberta government announced an allocation of $28 million to support private operators to open up to 22,500 licensed childcare spaces over the course of three years targeting “high-need and high-demand communities.”

Krystal Churcher, chair of the Association of Alberta Child Care Entrepreneurs and owner of a private childcare centre in Fort McMurray said the announcement allowed private operators like herself a moment to breathe.

“And maybe just enjoy the moment of being recognized in our sector again, and it’s having a role in the next phase of the rollout of the program,” she said.

The province is acknowledging the people who have invested and created 70 per cent of our childcare spaces in the province, said Churcher.

Applications for the Space Creation Grant “are open to new and existing licensed non-profit and private facility-based childcare programs and family day home agencies interested in creating new childcare spaces,” a press release read.

This is on top of the 42,500 non-profit spaces, and the “additional 3,700 private spaces that were ready to open when the agreement was signed in November 2021, for a total commitment of 68,700 new spaces,” a press release read.

Day home agency recipients of the grant receive up to $1,350 and facility-based programs receive up to $6,000 for each new childcare space.

The funds are a part of the Canada-Alberta Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement which provides an estimated $3.8 billion for child care over five years. 

Martha Friendly, founder and executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, said she was puzzled by the announcement.

“There are still things that were supposed to have been in place before this, this expansion of for-profit…My understanding is not anything new,” she said.

Friendly said the province was supposed to have a plan for for-profit rollout and a cost control framework in place between the federal government and the province.

“To my knowledge, I don’t think that that has been negotiated. I don’t understand why this is being kind of pushed out again,” she said.

The majority of childcare in Alberta is for-profit, said Friendly and different provinces have an ideological preference for for-profit, but evidence shows the quality of childcare in for-profit facilities generally isn’t as good.

“If you’re putting a lot of public money into childcare and it’s for-profit, it’s not going into the childcare, some proportion of it is going into people’s pockets,” she said.

The federal government expansion in childcare was to include both non-profit and public.

“The federal government decision was that in light of the fact that so much public money was being spent, that childcare should primarily be not for profit making operation…the wording was primarily expansion would be public and non-profit,” she said.

For-profit operations are a huge part of the Alberta childcare mix-market economy, and it would be difficult to replace them.

“The mixed economy is what hasn’t worked. The market model is what hasn’t worked. The flaw in this is thinking that childcare is a market just like shoes or oranges,” she said.

“The question of expanding childcare as a for-profit business, if you’re trying to build a quality, inclusive, publicly managed system, which is what I think we should be doing. It just doesn’t make it doesn’t make financial sense,” she continued.

Churcher said she doesn’t believe the public system is working well to support children at this time and that there needs to be an acknowledgement of the investment of the private sector.

“We didn’t just open these centres with government funding or without cost or investment. These are people like myself, who are moms and teachers and educators that chose to invest and put our savings into creating childcare centres in our community and to have a government system rolled out that takes the value out of that, that’s a massive issue for myself as a private childcare operator,” she said.

Churcher doesn’t know why one business model would be considered to be a better choice for any community and she thinks that anyone offering childcare in a community needs to have an understanding of that community.

“A lot of private operators can do that. So can a lot of nonprofit operators,” she said.

Overall, Friendly would like to see a concrete multi-year proactive plan in place to develop public and non-profit childcare prioritizing things like, how childcare will look in rural communities that is publicly led and that involves community.

“There’s some public conception of what’s needed — what’s our budget, what can we manage, and what do we have? That is, to me an essential, it’s one of the most important essential pieces right now of building this system because there’s not enough childcare… more parents can afford childcare and they want to have to childcare and they should. So that’s what I’d like to see Alberta and all the other provinces doing,” she said.

By Jessica Nelson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Oct 17, 2023 at 10:46

This item reprinted with permission from   St. Albert Gazette   St. Albert, Alberta

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