By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on May 20, 2020.
Support for child-care services should be part of province’s COVID-19 response
BOARD CHAIR, CHILDREN’S HOUSE CHILD CARE SOCIETY
When child-care centres across the country were told to close their doors due to COVID-19-related public health orders, leaving only day-home care available in some provinces, thousands of Canadian families, many of them critical and essential workers, were left in a child-care crunch.
It very soon became obvious that our most critical emergency services such as hospitals and long-term care facilities would not be able to operate during this pandemic without increased access to child care for the workers needed to operate them.
After the initial health orders to shut down many services in Alberta including public schools, post-secondary institutions, restaurants and many retail businesses – the very first service that had to reopen was child care. This pandemic has made it obvious to policy makers, at all levels of government and on all sides of the political spectrum, that child care is essential to the essential services we all rely on.
Child care is a vital component of emergency planning; plays a critical role in the operation of essential services; and is a requirement of any realistic plan to reopen our economy.
On March 16, CMOH order 01-2020 :2020 COVID-19 response prohibited attendance at early learning and childhood service programs (https://open.alberta.ca/publications/cmoh-order-01-2020-2020-covid-19-response). March 20, Alberta Minister for Children’s Services Rebecca Schultz announced a limited reopening of centres to provide care for emergency service workers such as nurses and doctors (https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=698961F75D711-E7AE-D923-C5CF0505F9BF0860) and stated: “All Albertans are relying on those who are working in core service areas like health care. That’s why we want to make sure child care is available for those who need it during this crisis.”
On April 1 Minister Shultz announced an expanded list of qualifying families to include other categories of essential front-line workers (https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=699762C5E7F0F-EC8E-6B55-76C0AA7217CB6409). In the release the minister stated: “Access to child care should not be a barrier for those who are doing the work required to maintain essential services for all Albertans. We are grateful to the workers for continuing to get the job done and we thank those child care operators for stepping up to provide this important service.”
As one of the centres that opened for emergency and essential workers, we have had significant changes in our operations, including increased staffing costs due to the need for health screenings, lower educator-child ratios and increased cleaning and medical screening. These requirements have made it necessary to open on double staff, and even triple staff – with significantly reduced revenue from the loss of parent fees.
Opening at a reduced capacity and increased sanitizing standards, health monitoring and physical distancing as much as possible have helped to mitigate health and safety risks due to COVID-19 for our staff and children; however, much of this came at a significant cost to the operation of the centre. The $66/space and one-time $1,500 subsidy announced last week will not be given to ELCC ($25/day) centres such as Children’s House. The current $41/day for unused spaces offered to centres providing care for essential service workers ended May 13 – and was not even close to enough to replace the lost fees and cover the increased costs of offering quality child care during the pandemic response.
While Children’s House remains open, many other centres may not be able to open and remain viable in this new reality. The support offered by the federal and provincial governments to this sector do little to make opening a viable option for many centres when these realities are considered and, as in the case of Canada’s Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), are too little, too late for many.
When there is such drastically increased financial pressure, such as many centres will be experiencing now, there is little choice but to increase parent fees to remain open. This is not fair to the families who are returning to work to “restart” our economy and it does not demonstrate the gratitude to the workforce the minister pays lip service to in her statements.
178,070 children representing 54.1 per cent of those aged 0-5 in Alberta were enrolled in some form of child care in 2019 (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190410/t001a-eng.html); it is fair to assume that a good proportion of those are in families that include critical emergency or other essential workers that rely on child care. Surely governments are not expecting these same emergency and essential workers they are currently heralding as “heroes” to bear the financial burden of our economic recovery.
Or will it be child-care programs and ECE workers, already underpaid and often undervalued themselves, subsidizing the reopening of the Alberta economy?
May 15 was Early Childhood Educator Appreciation Day in Alberta; the time has come to show our appreciation by adequately funding a system that supports our early childhood educators and the families that rely on them.