Thousands more parents will soon be eligible for subsidized daycare spaces in Alberta, as the provincial and federal governments have agreed to a key component in the next phase of their funding agreement.
Up to 1,600 more spaces in private, for-profit facilities will become eligible for funding “almost immediately,” according to Alberta Children’s Services Minister Mickey Amery.
Another 2,000 new spaces at private daycare centres are expected to qualify shortly after that, he said, once licensing requirements are completed.
The news comes after months of complaints from private operators — and parents — who have been effectively shut out of the affordable child-care program.
The initial phase of the federal-provincial agreement on child-care funding put a limit on the number of private daycare spaces that could receive the funding.
Since that limit was reached last spring, new or expanded spaces at for-profit facilities have not been eligible for the subsidies, which have already cut daycare costs in half for many parents.
That has come as a surprise to many parents, as well as some operators who were in the process of setting up new or expanded daycare facilities as the initial phase of the program rolled out — only to find there were no subsidies available once those spaces came online.
Robyn Sellin is among those parents. She runs a dance studio in Grande Prairie, located more than 450 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, and has an 18-month-old son.
“Finding child care for him has been very, very challenging,” she said.
She started off by putting her son in a day home, under the care of a single individual in a private residence, but ultimately wanted a more structured, reliable environment.
The only licensed daycare spot she could find was in a new wing of a facility in Grande Prairie. She counted herself lucky to get a full-time space, but was surprised when she found out the subsidies don’t apply and that she’d have to pay the full fee of $1,100 per month.
“It did sting a little bit, absolutely,” she said.
“A friend of mine actually has a son and a daughter who go there and she got in at the stage where she did qualify for the subsidized rate. So she pays less for both her son and daughter to go.”
‘Cost control framework’
The initial phase of the child-care funding agreement, which was signed in November 2021, is set to expire on April 1.
The next phase hinges on a “cost-control framework” as part of a larger “for-profit expansion plan” that will govern how child-care facilities use the public dollars they receive.
The framework was initially meant to be completed by Dec. 31, 2022, but was delayed. The federal and provincial governments announced Tuesday that they have now come to an agreement on the document, and the province will work with daycare operators to implement it.
The goal of the cost-control framework is to “guarantee the sound and reasonable use of these public funds,” said Karina Gould, the federal minister of families, children and social development.
“This framework will ensure costs and earnings of child-care businesses are reasonable and that surplus earnings are directed to improving child-care services in the province,” Gould said.
Krystal Churcher, who runs a daycare in Fort McMurray, about 435 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, and heads up the Association of Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs, says the immediate addition of 1,600 subsidized spaces is a “great first step,” given the long waiting lists and ongoing demand for child care in the province.
“I don’t know if this will be enough spaces to fully meet those demands,” she said. “But I guess we’ll have to get started and see.”
In total, the federal-provincial agreement is expected to create 22,500 new, subsidized spaces at private facilities by 2026. This is in addition to 42,500 new spaces at not-for-profit daycare centres expected by then.
The goal of the program is to bring child-care costs down to $10 per day by 2026.
Going forward, Churcher said, the devil will be in the details of the cost-control framework, a document that was just released Tuesday afternoon and operators have not yet had a chance to read in detail.
“I’m hoping that we have the courtesy of some time to make these considerations before we’re asked to sign in to something like this,” she said. “Because I do think that everyone needs to look at the long-term impact.”
Amery, the provincial minister, said flexibility will be built into the cost-control framework and the terms will not be written in stone.
“The framework is really a living model,” he said.
In signing onto the deal with Ottawa, Alberta agreed to prioritize not-for-profit daycare spaces. As such, non-profit daycare operators have not been subject to the same limit on subsidized spaces, and also qualify for additional grants to open new spaces.
But Amery said the province is committed to maintaining a role for private, for-profit operators as part of Alberta’s daycare system.
“We want a system that welcomes and embraces their full participation,” he said.
“A thriving child-care system will reinforce Alberta’s position as a destination of choice for families across the country — a place where parents do not need to choose between breaking the bank and leaving the workforce to care for their kids.”
For the time being, at least, that’s a choice that Sellin, as a mom of one child, continues to ponder.
“We want more kids, but there’s no way at this rate that we could pay $2,200 a month,” she said.
“I would have to become a stay-at-home mom. And that would be sad, because I absolutely adore my job. But it wouldn’t make any sense for me to continue doing that without the subsidy.”