Daycare dilemma

University of Calgary sociologist Dr. Tom Langford warns Alberta parents to be vigilant when choosing a daycare program for their young children thanks to a recent Alberta Government announcement. The government announced in early April that it is scrapping its plan to make accreditation mandatory for all day cares in Alberta.

“Most licensed day cares and approved family day home agencies are currently accredited,” says Langford, “a small percentage are not and simply do not provide care that measures up to the accredited services.”

Langford is the author of Alberta’s Day Care Controversy, a historical study of childcare policies, programs and funding between 1908 and 2009. His research finds that children from middle-income families are those most likely to receive care in unregulated family day homes or unaccredited day cares.

“Middle-income Albertans, who earn too much to qualify for subsidies, are very price sensitive when looking for child care. They are a group who often go for the cheaper options like independent, unregulated family day homes and unaccredited day cares simply because their family budgets are stretched to the breaking point.”

Langford says parents need to know that government wage enhancements of up to $6.62 per hour are only available to workers employed in accredited organizations. Wage enhancements have stabilized Alberta‟s child care labour force and encouraged workers with Early Childhood Education diplomas to remain in the field. He says a „buyer beware‟ caution should be exercised when dealing with any children‟s services that are licensed but unaccredited.

Low income families are also at risk. While subsidies allow them to obtain care offered in licensed day cares, the current maximum day care subsidies in Alberta of $628 per month for an infant and $546 per month for a toddler or preschooler are far below what is charged by day care centres that only hire staff who have completed a college program in early childhood education.

“If the maximum subsidy levels were increased by 75 percent by the provincial government, subsidized parents would be in a position to place their young children in higher quality programs. This would be a huge boost for their children‟s development,” says Langford.

While the government has decided to back off from mandatory accreditation, in 2007 it also removed regulations on the size of day cares which has led to large corporate day cares currently eyeing Alberta. The maximum number of children permitted in day cares was previously 80, but with size deregulation Langford says corporate day care centres that look after 200 or more children are in Alberta‟s immediate future.

“At this size, corporate day cares will be larger than some of our local elementary schools,” says Langford. “So attending them will be a very different experience than our current stock of smaller non-profit and commercial day cares.”

In his book Langford argues that since the capital for corporate day cares is provided by investors expecting sizeable returns on investment, generating profits rather than putting children first becomes the bottom line, and details a number of examples of corporatized day care chains that have gone bankrupt in recent years, leaving young children and their families in the lurch without continuous care.

“Research indicates that every dollar invested in preventive early childhood education and care results in a taxpayer saving of $3 or more over an individual‟s lifetime,” says Langford. “Quality and stability of care are crucial for young children. The more we put into quality services for young children now, the less we will need to spend later on in education and social services as those children grow.”