March 20th, 2018

Quality daycare growing, SACPA told

By Mabell, Dave on February 23, 2018.

Childrens Services Minister Danielle Larivee speaks on affordable child care during the weekly meeting of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

Southern Alberta families will be gaining more $25-per-day Early Learning and Child Care Centres.

Three new and 10 existing facilities are being considered for funding, the province’s children’s services minister reported Thursday.

Danielle Larivee, speaking to the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs, said her next goal is to have 100 centres in operation later this year. A $45-million grant from the federal government will underwrite the costs of expanding the pilot project launched last year.

British Columbia’s government is about to launch a subsidized system as well, she said – years after Quebec introduced a universal child-care program, allowing women to rejoin its workforce.

While some opposition politicians still believe a woman’s place is in the home, Larivee said today’s reality is that families need two incomes to pay their bills and offer their children a good start in life.

Finding good-quality daycare can be difficult, the minister said. With so many unlicensed daycares still operating, her department officials don’t know how many spaces are currently available – or how many more are needed.

But when centres meet licensing requirements, she added, the families they serve may qualify for the same financial assistance as those with children in the province’s initial 22 ELCC centres.

Larivee said the first of those in Lethbridge, the Opokaa’sin centre on Stafford Drive North, is among those that open long hours to accommodate parents whose jobs start early or run late. For low-income families, she added, the $25 fee may be waived.

“And parents are getting so much more than just a place to drop their kids off,” she emphasized.

Staff at the provincially supported learning and care centres are trained to make children’s play into learning experiences, the minister said. An estimated 85 to 90 per cent of a child’s brain development occurs by age six, she pointed out.

So those centres should be “vibrant, interactive places” that help prepare children for success in school.

“We can address problems as they start to develop, and reduce the need for special education” later on.

At the same time, Larivee said, low-cost, high-quality centres allow women to return to their careers.

They’re allowing Alberta women to fulfil their passion as scientists, in business – or as Olympic athletes – while still engaged with the joys and responsibilities of parenting.

And for single-parent or low-income families, she said, Alberta’s child benefit cheques can make it possible for their children to play sports or develop a talent.

“That can make a profound difference for kids in their early, formative years.”

While the government’s political opponents are calling the focus on child care “a waste of money,” Larivee said, the New Democrats included family friendly initiatives in their platform and they’re following through.

Some opponents want to see women stay home, she said, but that’s “out of touch with reality.

“Our policy is to respond to real lives and real situations today.”

Larivee said everyday Albertans, not just the wealthy, should have access to quality daycare at an affordable price.

There’s a cost involved, just as there is for public education.

“But all of us benefit.”

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