Town and Country – August 22,2017

Province developing new childcare strategy Minister holds discussion on the future of the childcare with regional stakeholders

Hannah Lawson

Childcare stakeholders from all over the region convened Aug. 15 in Athabasca to discuss the future of childcare in the province with Minister of Children’s Services Danielle Larivee. The discussion was part of the Alberta government’s efforts to establish a multilateral agreement between provinces to create quality, affordable childcare.

“We heard from families that childcare costs for one child a month was equivalent to a second mortgage payment,” Larivee said in an interview. “There’s a lot of families that can’t afford that.”

On June 13, Larivee signed the multilateral framework in Ottawa. It will be supported by a $7.5 billion federal investment totaling over 11 years for the country, according to an Alberta government press release. The province is now working with the federal government on an action plan detailing how federal funding will be used to support quality, affordable care.

Larivee said the Aug. 15 discussion was part of consulting local stakeholders on what the province’s next steps  should be.

Athabasca County Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) manager Debbie Wood said the nice thing about the discussion was stakeholders around the table were given an opportunity to speak about the “pressures” of child care.

“We have issues with access to affordable childcare,” she said. “It’s not just around the childcare itself, there’s other issues. Its staffing, it’s training, its wages (and) it’s the cost. For us in a small area, transportation is one of the huge issues.”

She added there are gaps in childcare within rural communities. In Boyle and Smoky Lake, for instance, there are no approved childcare centres.

“Now we’ve given (Larivee) the idea of what our issues are, and I think it’s pretty consistent for rural communities. A lot of them are the same,” Wood said.

In April, the Alberta government announced an early learning and childcare pilot program,= providing funding for 22 centres to support 1,296 licensed childcare spaces. Parents could benefit from “quality, licensed” childcare for no more than $25 a day, and centres in both Westlock and Lac la Biche received funding.

In addition to making childcare more affordable, Larivee said the pilot program — and now the multilateral framework agreement — is about helping children reach their potential.

“When a child is (in child care) eight hours a day, five days a week, they really need support with their development and not just surviving the day,” Larivee said.

Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette was also at the discussion, and said transportation was noted to be a concern for rural Alberta parents.

“It’s not enough to have the childcare space,” he said. “Parents have to get their children to and from that space, and that can be very expensive, depending on their situation.”

Piquette added his office does not often receive calls about childcare, but he gained an understanding of the issue from running a business in Boyle prior to becoming MLA.

“One of the continuing challenges for staff was finding affordable, accessible childcare for their kids,” he said.

Part of the discussion included how childcare can be placed more front-and-centre of the public agenda, Piquette said.

“There’s always going to be more needs than dollars. Unfortunately, very often in this province child care has been kind of a poor cousin,” he said. “How do we put this more firmly in the public agenda?”



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