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Day Care Dilemma


Tom Langford 3_edited for web.JPG
April 26, 2011

Sociologist
Tom Langford says middle-income Albertans are vulnerable in Alberta’s unregulated
child care system

The
Alberta Government announced in early April that it is scrapping its plan to
make accreditation mandatory for all day cares in Alberta. University of
Calgary sociologist Dr. Tom Langford says the decision means that parents will
have to continue to be vigilant when choosing a program for their young
children.

“Whereas
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
, an historical study of child care 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.”