A lack of child-care workers could put a crimp in the province’s plan to increase subsidized child-care spaces.
On Tuesday it was announced that up to 22,500 additional licensed private child-care spaces may be eligible for funding supports over the next three years under the Cost Control Framework and For-Profit Expansion Plan between the federal and Alberta’s governments.
Cameron Wiebe, co-owner and director of Lotsa Tots Childcare in Red Deer, said it’s always good when governments announce new funding for child care, but there would be no point to expand or open new facilities if they sit empty without child-care workers.
“Right now in the industry, not only in Alberta but across Canada, there’s a drastic shortage of child-care workers like other industries,” Wiebe said.
“New spaces are great, but just in Red Deer, I’m sure there’d be 100 spaces empty because there are no educators. I have space in my building, but I have no educators.”
Wiebe said the province is taking steps to attract more workers with increased funding for wages and more funding opportunities for professional development and education, but it will take time to address the shortage. Meanwhile, Lotsa Tots has a long waitlist of families looking to access child care.
Child care advocacy organizations Child Care Now Alberta and Public Interest Alberta are also concerned that the child care framework will have long-term implications for workers in the child care sector.
“We do not have the workforce necessary for the expansion of child care spaces. We need a plan to educate more early childhood educators and we need a wage grid, inclusive of pensions and benefits, to ensure fair compensation across the province,” said Susan Cake, chair of Child Care Now Alberta in a statement.
Bradley Lafortune, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said it’s disappointing that the agreement has expanded to include for-profit centres.
“All child-care spaces in our province should be non-profit. Profits have no place in care,” Lafortune said.
Children’s Services Minister Mickey Amery said including more private spaces in the child-care agreement is the next step in ensuring that parents have more child-care options and reducing parent fees.
“We remain fully committed to supporting the development of a child-care system that works best for Alberta families by providing parents with affordable, accessible, flexible and inclusive high-quality child care,” Amery said in a statement
The initial agreement between the federal and provincial governments signed in November 2021, meant that 42,500 non-profit spaces would be created by 2025-26. Now that the Cost Control Framework and For-Profit Expansion Plan has been agreed to by both governments, 22,500 private spaces are also eligible for funding.
Of the 22,500 new spaces created, up to 1,600 private spaces may be eligible for funding almost immediately, with up to 2,000 more eligible as soon as licensing requirements are complete.
As of September 2022, more than 112,000 spaces for children up to kindergarten-age are eligible for funding supports in both private and non-profit licensed child-care programs. Average child-care fees have been reduced by half and will average $10 per day by 2026.
Child Care Now Alberta and Public Interest Alberta worry that the Cost Control Framework incentivizes the creation of tiers of care, and will lead to lower-income families receiving basic care while higher-income families will be able to access quality programming.
“The framework does not specify what are ‘core’ operations and what are ‘enhanced’ services,” said Lafortune.
“It’s left up to the operators to decide. Additional parental fees for “enhanced” services will be optional, however, demand for child care still outstrips supply of spaces. This could lead to some providers only accepting families who are able to pay the “enhanced” service fees.”