Operators weighing options in rollout of $10/day childcare
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Operators weighing options in rollout of $10/day childcare

[File Photo]

A rate of $10 per day for childcare has a definite allure for parents, but operators of such facilities have a few more reservations.

On that list is the Jacob Hespeler Child Care Centre, which operates seven locations in the region, including one at Riverside PS in Elmira. Still, the organization is going to apply to participate in the program announced earlier this year when Ontario signed on to the federal plan.

“We definitely had concerns when it came out because there are criteria as to how much reserve an organization can hold, how much…surplus that you could end up with at the end of the year,” said executive director Colleen Lehnen.

Given that the variety of childcare providers have their own philosophies and guiding principles, the question is how the government program might impact the organization, she added.

“Are we still going to be allowed to have our uniqueness that makes us our own organizations? Or is the expectation that we’re all going to run exactly the same template that everybody is going to have to operate on?

“We want to make sure that we’re not just cogs in a wheel and that we’re still Jacob Hespeler at the end,” she explained.

While childcare is implemented locally in Ontario, is it all done under provincial guidelines, said Kristen Bustamante, manager of home child care for Waterloo Region.

“We have worked very closely and we will continue to work very closely with the agencies to respond to their questions and concerns. We want to make sure that the funding supports their programs and is sustainable. They can definitely bring [their concerns] forward and have one of our staff discuss further if they have more concerns. We’re happy to have those chats,” Bustamante said.

A statement from the ministry of education, which oversees childcare, said that as private businesses, childcare providers “will continue to maintain control of the decisions associated with how they choose to run their business.

“As such, participation in the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) system is optional. Every licensed child care provider, whether they are providing centre-based or home-based child care, will have an opportunity to participate in the CWELCC system,” the statement said.

However, the optional enrollment means that if the provider where families are receiving childcare does not opt in, those parents will not see their childcare costs decrease. A ministry spokesperson noted, however, that the province did roll out a child tax credit in 2019.

“We increased support and focused on affordability and choice for families by introducing the Child Care Tax Credit, providing up to $1,500 per child,” said Grace Lee.

For operators, there are concerns about potential costs increases at places such as Jacob Hespeler, Lehnen said

“After March 26 our fees were frozen indefinitely. Our fees can never increase to families, so what does that mean in terms of if our operating costs go up, which they will? Every year giving raises to our employees, all of those things…if we ever had to do any large renovations [for instance]. Understandably organizations, us included, had questions in terms of what does that mean,” she said.

Bustamante acknowledged this concern, but said the region is waiting on more information from the province.

“We do understand that fees naturally normally go up every year and those increased costs are built into the plan. With salary rates, we do know that the early learning sector has some challenges with retention due to lower wages,” she said.

Despite these concerns, Lenhen has been satisfied with the responses she’s received.

“We want this break for families, so the reason that we would ever choose not to would be one that would cause our centres to potentially have to close sites because of this, or that wages would be rolled back for our employees, that we weren’t able to continue to offer benefits, which is counterproductive to what they’re trying to develop. They’ve told us that those things are not going to happen. And so we’re going to trust that they don’t and, we’re going to move forward with it,” she said.

While there has been a slow uptake in applications by providers in the region, Lehnen pointed to the application process itself, which involves more than just saying yes to joining the program.

“It will require some organizations – I would say most – to have to modify some form of how they have been managing our budgets in terms of how we record things or how we invoice, and that sort of thing, because there’ll be a little bit more in-depth participation between the region and the childcare centers,” she explained.

Most providers in the region do intend to opt in, Bustamante said.

“I don’t know if there’s a challenge per se. I think it’s just that they had just received the applications on June 30 and they’re working towards that September 1 deadline.”

Bustamante also expects to see an increase in the number of childcare spaces in Waterloo Region, however she was unable to determine an exact number.

“At this point, this is just the first year of the rollout and it’s a phased approach. So we do expect there to be an increase in spaces, but it does take time to develop and build those spaces. We have already seen an increase in the number of spaces in our licensed home child care program, but in terms of centre-based care, that does take time. We do expect to see an increase,” she said.

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