Manitoba

Manitoba to spend $27.6M to provide child care for front-line health-care workers

Manitoba will spend $27.6 million to provide child care for kids of front-line health-care workers, Families Minister Heather Stefanson says.

3-step plan involves money for new home-based child-care programs

The province has a $27.6-million plan to provide child care for the kids of essential workers. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Manitoba will spend $27.6 million to provide child care for kids of front-line health-care workers, Families Minister Heather Stefanson said Friday.

Manitoba provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced on Tuesday that licensed daycare centres and preschools must close at the end of the day today.

The plan announced Friday will ensure essential workers will have the child care they need, Stefanson said.

"We need to provide that child care for the front-line service staff who are out helping us fight this pandemic," she said at a news conference.

"Based on Dr. Roussin's advice, child-care centres can stay open and provide care for up to 16 children. Priority will be given to health-care and other essential service workers."

The plan includes continuing to fund licensed child-care centres with their full operating budgets of $7.6 million, she said.

The province also will establish a new $18-million grant program to provide up to $3,000 to new home-based child-care centres of up to 12 children.

The grant program will help early childhood educators affected by the suspension of services in larger centres to have access to money so they can independently offer child-care services in their homes or out in the community.

Parents using these services will continue to pay daily parent fees, provincial officials said.

WATCH | Families Minister Heather Stefanson explains the new child-care plan

Minister of Families, Heather Stefanson, announces plan to focus on families of front line health workers 1:44

The province also will provide $2 million in capital grants to child-care providers to purchase safety equipment like fire extinguishers and first aid kits. The Winnipeg Foundation will administer this program.

"I've heard from the staff, the boards, the directors and everyone involved in child care in our province that they're ready to step up and they're ready to help us," Stefanson said.

Stefanson encouraged child-care centres to reimburse prepaid fees for services parents can no longer access.

The fees parents pay make up more than half of the funds for child-care centres' operating budgets, according to Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, which has more than 4,000 members.

Kehl realizes that families may be facing their own financial issues at the moment, but giving money back could pose financial problems for various child-care programs in the future, she said. 

The funding from the province is a positive, said Kehl, adding, however, that there are still some unanswered questions, such as which centres must stay open, and who is considered an essential service worker.

"What was essential three weeks ago is not the same as what's essential today," she said, noting that essential service workers would normally include people in health care, firefighters or police officers.

"In the state that we're living in right now, is an employee who works in a grocery store an essential worker? This isn't a decision early learning child care wants to make on its own — we really want guidance and clarification from the province on these types of decisions."

Essential, front-line workers who need child-care options should call 204-945-0776 or 1-888-213-4754, or email cdcinfo@gov.mb.ca.

With files from Sam Samson

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