Plan to overhaul N.B.'s daycare system hinges on operators buying in
Operators give mixed reviews of Gallant government's plans
The New Brunswick government's new daycare plan is gambling on large numbers of existing daycare providers in the province — many of them private businesses — agreeing to transform into new "early learning centres" over the next two years.
Many operators, however, say they are not entirely sure what that will require.
In a series of news conferences and media releases over the last two weeks, the Liberal government has announced plans to overhaul early childhood education.
But that first depends on hundreds of private daycare operators signing on to the plan, and there's no guarantee they will.
Lynn Pelletier, who operates a daycare for 30 preschool children in Beresford, said she is interested in signing on to the new system but said details on what that involves are still vague.
"It's all kind of rolled out at the same time as we're getting it, so it's just kind of being patient right now to see what's going on," she said.
Last week, Premier Brian Gallant said the government hopes every daycare will become an early learning centre, but the choice will be up to daycare operators.
"If they choose not to that's fine," Gallant said. "Daycares are not required to be part of this program.
"We will work toward transforming as many childcare facilities as possible with the aim of designating more than 300 as New Brunswick early learning centres by 2020."
Currently, there are more than 600 licensed daycares in New Brunswick and the province has given general guidance for what transitioning to an early learning centre will involve, including increased early childhood education training for staff and physical upgrades to buildings.
More oversight with upgrades
But centres will also have to adhere to provincial inclusion policies to serve children with disabilities and diverse needs, have annual quality improvement plans and establish parent advisory committees — a level of oversight many owner operators have never had to deal with.
Lisa Brown, who operates a 46-space daycare in Roachville outside Sussex, is happy to sign on to the new system but is worried she might have problems because her building is not wheelchair accessible.
"I'm hopeful," she said. "I think it's going to be a great thing for the province and families but at the same time there are a lot of grey areas still unknown."
Up in Bathurst, Marc-Andre Boudreau operates 200 preschool spaces and said he will definitely be applying to upgrade to an early learning centre but fears the change will be harder than people realize.
He predicted daycares will have difficulty retaining staff.
"That's going to be the major issue — to see how the staff is going to react to this," Boudreau said. "Their workload is going to increase quite a bit actually.
"Right now it's work with the children and create activities."
At early learning centres, however, the staff will be more like teachers, he said.
"They'll have to do preparation for their weeks, reporting on every child," Boudreau said. "They want them to be early childhood educators.
"I am sure there are operators who are going to be leery of doing the transition."
Pressure to change
To overcome resistance among daycare operators, the province has created significant financial incentives that will only be available to daycares that make the switch to an early learning centre.
In addition, generous new daycare subsidies for parents, including free daycare for low-income families, will only be paid if children attend an early learning facility.
According to operators, that has already created significant financial pressure on daycares to join the new government program.
"We've got some impatient parents already," said Brown. "There are so many families that have come through our doors now that are asking so many questions and can't wait for the designation to come in "
That's a sore point with some daycare owners who feel government is tilting the economics of daycare so much in favour of early learning centres it will not be possible to operate unless they do exactly what the province wants.
"I do feel pressured absolutely," said Woodstock daycare owner Angela Gould.
"If I don't become an early learning centre, obviously my business is going to go elsewhere because parents are going to get funding to go to an early learning centre. It's frustrating for me for the government to come over here and say 'well if you don't do this you're going to be left by the wayside.' It's very, very stressful."