New bill would change frequency of Alberta child-care centre inspections

New legislation would change the frequency of Alberta child-care centre inspections to put more focus on those struggling to comply with rules.

Legislation would allow overnight child care at licensed centres

Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz said proposed changes to child-care centre legislation would reduce the burden of paperwork on operators and give them more flexibility with hours and staffing ratios. (CBC)

New legislation would change the frequency of Alberta child-care centre inspections to put more focus on those struggling to comply with rules.

Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz tabled legislation Wednesday that would license daycare centres in good standing for three years at a time, instead of one.

"I want to emphasize that these changes will absolutely not compromise the safety of children and youth in child care," Schulz said at a news conference.

"I feel very strongly that we still have to have set check-ins to ensure that all centres are adhering to the guidelines," she later added.

The frequency of inspections, and what qualifies a centre as higher risk, will be set later this fall in regulations.

Centres in good standing would also have an easier time applying to open new locations.

Bill 39, the Child Care Licensing and Amendment Act, would also allow licensed daycare centres to operate 24 hours a day if needed — something the law doesn't currently allow.

If passed and proclaimed, the legislation would also allow the province's 2,900 licensed child-care programs to keep digital, rather than paper files.

Schulz said the changes would tweak the rules to encourage more day homes to pursue licences.

Under the current rules, for example, unlicensed day homes can care for six kids, plus the owner's children, whereas licensed homes can only have a maximum of six children. If the legislature adopts the proposal, all day home operators could care for their own children plus six kids.

The bill would also allow centres more flexibility to mix age groups together, which could help with staffing and in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Oct. 9, only half of the province's 111,252 child-care spaces were in use.

The minister said the changes are intended to modernize rules, allow daycare operators more flexibility and add more transparency for parents and guardians looking for child care.

Daycare centres would be required to tell parents directly if there are any changes to their licence, rather than posting a bulletin. Members of the public could also find out if unlicensed day homes have been ordered to stop caring for kids at any point in the previous two years.

The provincial government already has an online tool where people can look up daycares and see any problems cited by inspectors.

'Best news I've ever heard'

Tricia Cunningham, executive director of the SIGIS child care society, said many of the proposed changes are ideas that people in the sector have long hoped for.

Her society has 20 locations and rents a storage unit to keep all the required paperwork — there's not enough room in the daycare centres.

Cunningham said she is "thrilled" to see a potential change to the frequency of inspections based on risk.

"It's the best news I've ever heard," she said. "(Inspectors) are going to be able to take the energy that they need to be, and put it into the field in centres that need that support. So that is a brilliant plan."

Schulz said the changes would free up daycare operators to spend less time and money filling out paperwork and ticking boxes.

Rakhi Pancholi, the NDP's children's services critic, said the legislation doesn't go far enough to ensure children are receiving high-quality early education at daycare and in preschool.

In March, the government eliminated a provincial system of daycare accreditation that set out training expectations for workers and standards for the educational expectations of accredited programs. More than 95 per cent of licensed programs were accredited.

Although Schulz said the standards are now in legislation as guidelines, Pancholi said they're optional and inadequate.

With many spaces sitting empty across Alberta, daycares and after-school-care centres have less funding and higher operating costs. Centres will have to make "tough choices," Pancholi said, including hiring staff with fewer qualifications that can be paid at lower rates.

"I think we're going to see that even if programs want to meet higher standards, they're going to have significant difficulty in doing that," she said.

Schulz said her goal was to simplify the regulatory system. Now, daycares are either licensed, or not, and there are two rather than five categories of licensure.

If passed by MLAs, the legislation would take effect in Feb. 1, 2021.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?