New Brunswick

Province asks daycares to step up for essential workers in Edmundston, Woodstock

The province is having trouble finding daycare space for essential workers in a few parts of the province.

Edmunston needs 100 daycare spots, while most other parts of the province have ample space

Deputy education minister George Daley says province-wide, there are plenty of daycare seats for children of essential workers, but certain areas are short spaces, while others have vacancies. (CBC)

The province is having trouble finding daycare space for essential workers in a few parts of the province.

Deputy education minister George Daley said more than 1,100 essential workers have requested emergency child-care services since daycares closed Tuesday.

More than 700 children have been either assigned daycare spaces or found alternative measures, but the province is still working at matching 900 more children with daycares.

New Brunswick closed down schools Monday, and daycares Tuesday as part of extensive measures to avoid large gatherings and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has caused thousands of deaths around the world.

Daley said most places have ample space, but Edmundston is short 100 spots. Petit-Rocher, Woodstock and Norton are also looking for more daycare providers to step up, needing about 30 spots each.

"There may have been lack of clarity and messaging that went out and we're trying to encourage them to open up their facilities so we can meet those needs," Daley said at a technical briefing Friday morning.

Daley said the province is reaching out to daycare providers in those areas to see if they can open and handle the demand. But failing that, the province might use school space to take care of those children.

"If we get to a case that we do not have facilities that we're going to need to look at opening up a school facility in that area and we will have to put staff in place to manage that," he said.

"Our primary focus was to stay with the current early learning centres simply because they have the expertise of dealing with the children of that age."

Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Elliott said there are 2,950 spaces available across the province, and that includes infant care, preschool and after school programs.

"We don't have a concern for overall number of spaces in the province," Daley said. "We're working on those areas specifically to make sure that we can provide a service."

We know that there are some gaps in what we're doing-George Daley

Saint John for example has 414 spaces available, and only 115 have been required so far. So there are around 300 available spots there. 

At the technical briefing Daley answered dozens of questions from journalists about the new COVID-19 daycare regulation.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said Wednesday that daycares that have laid off their staff can no longer charge parents. But daycares that still have staff can continue to ask for payment, even if they're closed.

Cardy previously said fees being charged to parents who have lost their income will be covered by the province. He said essential workers will still have to pay a fee, but only one fee and not two.

Daley said parents who have "lost income" are people who have been laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paying full tuition?

If parents who are working from home and have no lost income want to keep their spots, they have to keep paying the tuition their daycares are asking for. Some parents expressed concerns about having to pay the full fee while daycares have closed and reduced service. To this concerns, Daley said "they're all private institutions."

"Some of the daycares have made the choice to continue charging their parents because they've continued paying their employees," he said. "So the daycares are looking to protect the seats for those parents."

Daycares double dipping?

Daycares that have stepped up as emergency facilities can still charge parents who aren't essential workers and aren't sending their children to the facility, potentially making more money.

But, Daley said the emergency daycares face different standards which would reduce their capacity. They have to clean more, and may have more staffing.

"We feel fairly confident that what's coming in there is more about meeting the needs of having to open in this emergency situation," he said.

What's the timeline? 

Daley said the length of these state of emergency measures and self-isolation directives will depend on how much the "curve is flattened," or how much the spread of the novel coronavirus can be curtailed.

There are currently 11 presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province, with no new cases for two days in a row.

"The Minister is clear that we want to try to lessen the effects on families as much as possible. And as I said, our priority right at the moment is to get those essential workers looked after," he said.

"We know that there are some gaps in what we're doing. We also know that the Federal Government has announced some other funding support coming down."

Daley also said the staff on the early learning profile have been "working around the clock."

Penalty for daycares not following the rules?

Daley said if there are daycares that are charging parents but have no staff, parents should contact the department. 

"We certainly will be starting to reach out to those daycares and have some conversations around that," he said. "There's a moral responsibility that we all have here to try to… lessen this crisis and the negative effects it has on everyone."

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