Government

Auditor General reports on child care

Minister Karen Casey accepts recommendations

Michael Pickup (right), speaks to a colleague at Wednesday's news conference.
Michael Pickup (right), speaks to a colleague at Wednesday’s news conference.   Regina Peters

Child care needs to be safer and more affordable, according to a new report from Michael Pickup, auditor general of Nova Scotia.

“The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development should clarify its policy on high-priority violations,” said the report that was released Wednesday. High-priority violations include hiring workers without doing a criminal background or a child abuse registry checks, or hiring those that don’t have first aid training.

The report says family home daycares, or “child care in (a) private home for up to six children or eight school-aged children, including the provider’s own,” are the most at risk.

All daycares are inspected by licensing agencies, which do not share the same standards. For example, someone with a criminal background is not allowed to have “direct contact” with children, but there is confusion about what “direct contact” means.

In his report, Pickup recommends “a quality assurance process to review inspectors’ work.”

Another issue raised by the report is the cost of sending a child to a daycare.

In June, the Department of Education released a plan titled Affordable Child Care: A Great Place To Grow, which called for “increases to subsidy amounts in 2016-17 and limiting fee increases,” as paraphrased in Pickup’s report.

This would mean that child care centres would not be allowed to raise their admission fees from what they currently are.

Tim Houston, MLA for Pictou East, told The Signal that limiting fees would have an effect on child care workers.

“Operators are concerned,” he said. “Their costs are going up; they need to pay a living wage to their workers.”

Government subsidies, however, might make up some of the difference. Pickup’s report states that “the subsidy rates for low income parents are the lowest in the country and subsidy assistance is well below the cost of care.”

Currently, subsidies to families and child care centres is $37 million. According to the report, the funds should be increased and also be spent more efficiently. The department “should implement review processes to help verify grant and subsidy claims.”

Karen Casey, Minister for Education and Early Childhood Development, confirmed that these changes will take place. At a news conference on Wednesday, she said her department is already working on a “funding formula” for the subsidies.

“We have accepted the auditor general’s recommendations and are working towards them,” she said.