Private daycares face uncertain future as province moves to centralize child care
Owners must change their business model or give up funding
January 18, 2022, 4:06 pm ASTLast Updated: January 28, 2022, 3:15 pm
Private child-care centres are calling for more time and more information as they face a difficult decision: lose control over their businesses or lose their funding.
Nova Scotia signed an affordable child care agreement with the federal government in July, with the goal of $10 a day daycare, 9,500 new child-care spaces and higher salaries for child-care workers by 2026.
But private child-care centres, which hold 57 per cent of child-care spaces in the province, cannot offer these subsidized fees for parents and higher wages for workers unless they join a new central organization being developed by the Department of Education.
In a conference call last week, the department gave private child-care centre owners their options.
“It appears at this time that there’s no real viable option, and many are very, very concerned that they’re going to lose their lifelong investment,” said Bonnie Minard, the director of Portland Daycare Centre in Dartmouth and co-chair of the Private Licensed Administration Association of Nova Scotia.
For-profit centre owners can decide to become an approved service provider under the new system, keeping their businesses but losing control over operations such as waitlists and payroll. Or they can transition to a non-profit model and give up their businesses to the new organization. Alternatively, they can remain private and lose all funding.
Centres that choose to change their business model will be offered a lump sum transition payment, a fraction of their typical funding, and they will not be able to sell or hand down their businesses in the future. The decision must be made by March 18.
Minard said owners were not given enough details to make a decision by the deadline.
The province is offering a $15,000 grant for centres to seek professional advice, but “all the accountants and lawyers are saying we can’t advise without numbers,” she said.
“They haven’t provided us with a funding formula, they haven’t provided us with the salary package, they haven’t provided us with all of those things that you would need to make a smart business decision.”
Minard said she supports affordable child care initiatives and hopes there’s a “middle ground” for private centres in the new system.
“We all want quality, we all want it to be affordable, we want people to have choices, but we also think that we deserve time to fairly negotiate what the new system looks like.”
Impact on families and staff
Erin Angle purchased Bright Side Early Learning Centre in Cole Harbour three years ago, putting her family in debt. She said she’s concerned about the effects the new government-run system will have on families and her staff.
Angle said nearly half of the families who use her centre have their fees subsidized by the government, and if she decided to remain private, they would lose that support.
She said centres may have to close if they decide the options aren’t viable, leaving families scrambling to find care.
“I just want the community to know that we’re advocating for family rights to choose where they want to go and advocating for families to know that the appropriate amount of support can be given in each centre,” she said.
Angle said she hasn’t been told what staff salaries will look like under the new system, or if they will be able to stay at the centre where they currently work.
“I want my staff to know that I’m fighting to make sure that their seniority is held in my business, that they get vacations that they deserve, that they get the support they need every day, to make sure that their jobs are secured.”
In a news conference on Friday, Premier Tim Houston said, “This is a historic change. Every time you make a historic change, there are ramifications.”
“I don’t want to be a ramification of change,” Angle said.
“I want to be an advocate for change and advocate for positivity, but I’m not a ramification. I’m an individual with a family. I employ amazing educators who have been unsure of what their future holds.”
“We are unified”
Lisa Beddow, the owner of Friends for Life, which holds 420 child-care spaces and 80 employees in six locations across the province, said she’s leading Nova Scotia’s 194 private operators in advocating for a better deal.
The group has been communicating with government bodies since Friday’s announcement.
“I want the premier to sign an amendment to include private operators as part of the (Canada-wide agreement),” Beddow said.
Under Alberta’s and New Brunswick’s agreements with the federal government signed in the fall, for-profit centres still qualify for funding. Ontario has not signed on to the Canada-wide system yet.
She said private operators, most of whom are women, who have put “the blood, sweat and tears” into their businesses could see their efforts “washed away.”
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
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